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Sunday, March 30, 2008

In the dictionaries that I have available to me, including online dictionaries, the meaning of "misspeaking" is either speaking or pronouncing incorrectly, or speaking mistakenly, inappropriately, or rashly. If I were to say that last Tuesday was one of the wettest days we’ve had this month when it was actually bone dry but stormy on Wednesday, I would have misspoken. On the other hand, if I were to say that I flew into O’Hare airport last Tuesday or Wednesday in the midst of a tornado and we were lucky to have survived a crash landing - and none of that was true - that would be an outright fabrication. One of the several dictionary meanings of fabrication is "the deliberate act of deviating from the truth." In other words lying.

Hillary Clinton’s account of her visit to Bosnia in 1996 falls in that category. It’s a lie. You don’t "misspeak" about dodging sniper fire. Not when your teenage daughter - your only child - is in mortal danger of being hit by that sniper fire. It’s remarkable enough to imagine your secret service entourage allowing you to get off a plane that has landed in the midst of sniper fire - but when you’re fabricating as opposed to misspeaking, such logical details get lost in the story telling. Hillary has tried to brush the lying aside by blaming it on sleep deprivation - but since she’s been telling the story on the stump - at different times and under different conditions, it’s hard to buy the sleep deprivation excuse - and maybe that’s why she’s lost more support than has Obama with his ex-pastor problem.

And Obama’s ex-pastor problem I what I want to talk about because even though he’s taken less of a hit than Hillary with her Bosnia story - it’s going to continue to be talked about during the general election - not just by conservative pundits, but by 527 group ads - and , until she is finally forced to concede that she will not be the Democratic nominee - by Hillary Clinton. Probably by Bill too.

I don’t know why Obama joined Trinity Church although I’m sure it wasn’t because he was told that its pastor was a fiery preacher who sometimes said outrageous things. But I can imagine why he stayed if he felt comfortable with the surroundings and the works of that church. He was doing community organizing and from what I’ve read, Trinity was and is deeply involved in community activities. And apparently, he and Jeremiah Wright hit it off. As I’ve indicated here before, I’ve listened to some of Reverend Wright’s sermonizing - and when he’s not ranting and raving and saying outrageous things, he sounds pretty much like I imagine other preachers sound in black churches, quoting from the bible and urging congregants to heed the "holy scriptures." Maybe Obama knew and related to more of the "normal" side of the man than what is being described as racist and anti American and just plain nuttiness.

But as supporters of Obama have said about this whole affair - me among them - he’s the one running for president, not his pastor. There is not supposed to be a religious litmus test for candidates for political office - but of course there is. No politician can hope to become his party’s candidate for the presidency without asserting that he (or she) is a person of faith. And not just a person of faith - but the right kind of faith. Membership in one of the major Christian denominations. And an expressed belief in the deity of Christ and that Christ is the candidate’s personal savior and the candidate’s belief that Christ died for the sins of mankind.

Obama has had to say all of these things in defending himself against the assertion that he is unfit to be president because he remained a member of a church led a by a pastor who is antithetical to the average Caucasian Christian’s view of how a Christian minister should sound. Including Hillary Clinton who had been silent on the Wright affair for a while , but in the wake of her Bosnia gaffe, now is anxious to let the world know that she wouldn’t have stayed in that kind of a church. Which I guess is easy to say if you’re not a black women with a lifetime of black experience and living on the south side of Chicago.

Frankly, I’m less concerned with the nuttiness of Jeremiah Wright than I am with the need for Obama to defend himself for having the man as his spiritual guru. From what I’ve been able to discover by doing a bit of basic research, Wright is highly regarded in black religious circles and is no more nutty in some of the things he has said in the past than ministers of the far right are saying all the time, including John Hagee and Rod Parsley, the two nut jobs that John McCain has sought out to be his "spiritual advisors" - a euphemistic way of describing a conduit to the evangelical types to whom they appeal.

I’m more concerned with the prominence and influence that matters of religion, however obscure, play in the business of electing a president. I remember when Obama was running for Senator in Illinois against Alan Keyes who said that Jesus wouldn’t support Obama because he supported abortion rights. Said Keyes, spreading his arms apart - "Christ is over here, Sen. Obama is over there: the two don't look the same." To which Obama responded that he didn’t appreciate being lectured about Christianity. "That's why I have a pastor," he said. "That's why I have a Bible. That's why I have my own prayer. And I don't think any of you are particularly interested in having Mr. Keyes lecture you about your faith. What you're interested in is solving problems like jobs and health care and education. I'm not running to be the minister of Illinois. I'm running to be its United States senator."

I applauded that response then - but I have to say that I’ve winced when Obama has felt the need in the current campaign to assure audiences in stump speeches that he is indeed a Christian and that "Jesus Christ is my savior." Whenever I hear a politician say something like that - and especially when that politician is a man of Obama’s intelligence - I have to wonder if that is something he truly believes - or something he feels he has to say to establish himself as being one with his audience. To his credit, he has also said that he doesn’t think that belief in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation. He told a questioner in Greensboro, North Carolina the other day that Jews and Muslims who live moral lives are just as much children of God as he is.

Obama’s speech in the wake of the furor raised over the inflammatory clips from Wright’s sermons has been praised by many, including me. He did a good job, taking the narrow issue of Wright and his relationship with Wright and expanding it to a challenge to the nation to confront issues of race in ways that we’ve never confronted them before. It seems that, although he’s taken a hit reflected in somewhat lower polling numbers, the speech held that hit to a much lower level than the one taken by Hillary - an indication perhaps that although the Republicans aren’t going to let the issue die, it’s not going to be the weapon they hoped it would be.

But still, the nagging concern remains that the religious beliefs of both candidates and voters have a huge influence on the outcome of national elections. We pay lip service to the concept of "separation of church and state" - but there is no separation when it comes to the business of electing a president. No atheist can think of running for the office. Nor a Muslim. A Jew was on the ticket as a vice presidential candidate - but it’ll be a snowy day in Miami when there’s a Jewish candidate for president. And I’ve no doubt that some votes were lost to Al Gore because of Joe Lieberman’s faith.

The fact that a candidate for the presidency spoke to us as though we all were adults, as Obama did on March 18 is an encouraging sign, perhaps a harbinger of future discourse on a topic that is usually discussed at the level of a parent reading a fairy tail to a child. Of course if that is attempted, most likely the first people to complain that such a discussion has no place in a presidential campaign are the same ones who apply a religious litmus test to anyone even hinting at a run for the office. Still, one can hope. No one expected a candidate to discuss race in a presidential election and no one could have anticipated the positive reaction to that discussion.

Maybe we are getting close to being ready for someone to open a frank discussion on what role religion should play in our elections - or whether it should play any role at all. How much more refreshing that would be than having a candidate for his party’s presidential nomination, when asked to describe the "defining mistake" of his life respond that " I have no doubt of what the greatest mistake in my life has been. And that is that it took me probably 30 years before I realized that Jesus Christ is my personal savior." That was Tom Tancredo when he was still in the Republican theocracy primaries. I call them that because the back and forth gibes between the Republican candidates was as much about who had the most "faith" as who had the best ideas about how to tackle the nation’s problems. Think about how well Huckabee did in states with a large "evangelical population." People voting for him - not because they thought he was the best candidate but because they shared his religious beliefs. And now the pundits are commenting on Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Bob Casey’s endorsement of Obama as potentially helping him with "Catholic voters." Casey is a Catholic. He’s for Obama - therefore it follows that some Catholic voters will also be for Obama.

It’s a scary thing, more so in this election year than in any other I’ve witnessed in decades. Particularly at a time when a major topic of consideration in this election is the threat that the world faces from religious fanatics of the Muslim faith. They’re crazy and want to destroy us. And we have a Republican candidate being spiritually advised by a minister who thinks Christians need to go to war against "the false religion": of Islam and destroy it!! If that isn’t a good enough reason to move religion as far away as we can from politics and from political discourse and to absolutely resist the influence it brings to bear on the outcome of national elections - I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Maybe whoever was responsible for releasing those sound and picture bites of Jeremiah Wright saying what appeared to be unconscionable things did Barack Obama a favor. I don’t know who was responsible. I know that a McCain campaign worker got suspended for distributing a link to a scurrilous youtube video titled "Is Obama Wright" to which I refuse to include a link here - if you want to look at it, it’s easy to find - but whether it was the McCain or Clinton campaigns that were responsible for the bites that we continue to see on Fox "News" and similar outlets, they did Obama a favor by doing it now and not during the general election - assuming that he becomes the Democratic candidate.

They did him a favor by allowing time for the voting public to find out if he really attended a church that was vitriolically anti American and was spiritually mentored by a rabid hatemonger. The hatemongers that I’m familiar with - the far right pundits who describe all those who are critical of them as hatemongers , will have no interest in looking beyond the audio/video bites that are out there. The likes of Bill O’Reilly and Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity will continue to play the same bits over and over and continue to ask how we could even consider voting for someone who would associate himself with a man and a church that voiced such anti-American beliefs. It’s a powerful message. Even Obama has said that if those video snippets were all he knew about the reverend and Trinity Church, his reaction would likely be one of shock and anger. But apparently, there’s a little more to the story.

My first glimpse into the broader story was a radio interview that I heard over the weekend with the distinguished Lutheran minister Martin Marty. Reverend Marty is someone who knows Jeremiah Wright well and who has sat in his church and listened to his sermons. And while he agreed that some of the statements in the notorious video clips were "over the top" - his description of the man and his works was about as opposite as it could get from the impression left by those videos. And then this morning, out of curiosity, I brought up this web site to listen to the context in which the notorious "chickens coming home to roost" comments was made in a post 9/11 sermon. It’s a little over nine minutes as opposed to the few seconds of the two or three sound bites that were plucked out of this sermon to make him sound like he supported those who attached us on 9/11 - but it’s worth taking the time to listen - unless of course your mind is closed to the idea of anything other than another Republican president for the next four years.

But in the event that you don’t have the time or the interest, let me just point out that in this emotional yet very thoughtful lecture given after the 9/11 attack, Reverend Wright wasn’t himself asserting that "chickens had come home to roost". He was citing the appearance on a Fox News program of former diplomat and Chief of Mission in Baghdad 1977-1980 Edward Peck - and quoting what the Ambassador had to say about our foreign policy contributing to the 9/11 attack.

I haven’t had the time yet to listen to the full context of all the snippets that are being played over and over on the right wing radio an cable channel shows, but I plan to because I don’t want to arrive at any conclusion about anyone based on edited snippets. I guarantee you that I could put together a string of sound bites from any modern president or any contemporary preacher that would make them sound like enemies of the state. It’s so easy, it’s almost laughable. I used to produce taped programs and I could make anyone say whatever I wanted him or her to say with a razor blade. (Old fashioned editing. Before the digital age). I’ll give you an example. Say I was a newsman reporting on some political speech and describing an incident where "this nut jumps up and yells at the top of his voice - President Bush should be assassinated!" That’s now on tape and all you need do is edit out the bit about the nut who jumps up and says this stupid thing and you have the newsman advocating a presidential assassination.

The "Goddamn America" snippet by itself is particularly disturbing but could it be less disturbing if one listens to the context? I’ve listened and I believe it is less disturbing when you listen to what leads up to the comment and what comes after. Here’s a report on the sermon and hefty chunks of the written text by journalist Roland Martin - and there is a link to the audio version at the top of the page. Just click on it and then on the audio link just below. It’s a sermon that’s full of fire and brimstone and highly political - but the "Goddamn America" line seems to be a biblical exhortation rather than a secular curse. He’s talking about America’s record in its treatment of black citizens and of the state of the black community today and how God would think about it. He says - of the "goddamn" word, "it’s in the Bible" - and a few lines later, he says "Tell your neighbor he’s (going to) help us one last time. Turn back and say forgive him for the God Damn, that’s in the Bible though. Blessings and curses is in the Bible. It’s in the Bible."

The RWRAR’s - right wing ranters and ravers for those of you who are not regular readers of this blog, will continue to use the same snippets from Reverend Wright’s sermons right up to the Democratic convention - and likely beyond. But I predict it will not only lose steam but backfire when a number of things happen. One, when the full versions of the sermons are publicized and listened to on youtube and other sites. Two, when people of Martin Marty’s caliber who know Jeremiah Wright are interviewed or appear on national television programs And three, when a variety of Obama’s fellow parishioners come forward and explain how they relate to Trinity Church and how they view the messages of Wright’s sermons. If you scroll through the Roland Martin site linked above, you’ll see comments from someone familiar with Trinity who listens to services on the radio and who says that his daughter attended the church for years and never saw the Obama’s there - giving credence to his statement that he never heard the incendiary comments that are being broadcast in an endless loop. When she and others come forward and their voices are heard, a different pattern may emerge.

Barack Obama will be the Democratic candidate and unlike some others - even supporters - who think that his former pastor’s scary words s will derail him - I predict that it will be a non issue by the time we go to the polls in November. In fact, if the Obama people do the kind of job that I’m sure they’re capable of doing, white voters will finish up with a greater understanding of their fellow citizens of color - and may even get to like Jeremiah Wright!!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

He hit a home run. With two men on. It would have been a grand slam if there had been some way to push past and leave behind the rantings of Jeremiah Wright, but he’s going to be front and center in the presidential campaign if and when Obama gets the nomination. More on the Reverend in a minute.

It was a man of presidential caliber who wrote and delivered that speech. Watching him, I could believe that I was watching a president - someone who knows what is needed to lead this country toward - as he put it - a more perfect union - and who has what it takes to do just that. I can’t think of any speech by any president in my lifetime that impressed me as this speech did. It was cerebral, yet as one pundit put it, you could tell that he was speaking from the heart and that you could believe what he was saying. It was, I think telling that in the same news cycle, we saw John McCain in Jordan, looking old and tired and mouthing inanities about it being "well known" that al Qaeda was moving from Iraq to Iran for training, after which they were re-entering Iraq to continue to wage war against us. This is a man who claims to have superior foreign policy and national security experience and will run on those themes against the Democratic nominee, but it took a whisper in his ear from Republicrat Joe Lieberman to get him to correct himself and apologize - saying that it was "extremists" being trained in Iran - not al Qaeda. Shades of Nancy Reagan whispering in her husband’s ear so he could say "we’re doing the best we can" in response to a reporter’s shouted question.

The negative reaction from the extremists on the right was as expected, but it was heartening to see many people who are not supporting Obama, praise both him and the speech. Evan perennial critic John Kass of the Chicago Tribune agreed with me, saying that "As he spoke, I saw him as the next president of the United States and thought of voters feeling the same." Yes indeed John. But Kass also said that the speech wasn’t as much about race as it was about the words of Jeremiah Wright - and here I disagree. It was about both - in the sense that the Reverend’s inflammatory words are a reflection of the problems of race in this country that we have yet to face in the way that Obama is now asking us to face them.

I suppose it’s easy to look at Oprah Winfrey and Tiger Woods and Condoleezza Rice and a host of other rich and successful African Americans who seem to transcend race - and fool ourselves into believing the race problems of the past are indeed of the past and that it’s time for blacks to stop blaming white society for their ills. Would that it was that simple. Stop and think. The holocaust in Europe was already over while parts of this nation sill had laws on the books that relegated black skinned people to second class citizenship. It’s hard - I think maybe impossible - for a white skinned Caucasian to imagine what that must have been like, but it’s not hard to imagine how it is still rooted in the souls of those blacks who came of age and lived through that period of our history that ended just a few years ago.

When my oldest child was 2 ½, I and my family went to Miami for a vacation. We went by car and the memory of that trip through the south is burned deeply into my soul as though it took place last week. I will never forget the shock and shame I felt as we stopped along the way for food and drink at a roadside snack shop or restaurant where black people were waiting in line to be served - some of them family groups like ours - only to have them step aside so that we could be served first. I didn’t understand it and I tried to keep my proper place in line - but the response of the subservient blacks was almost one of panic. No way were they going to let it look like they wanted to be served before a white person!! Yes, that was a long time ago, but just think of one of those blacks being a small child who might today be Jeremiah Wright - or someone like him, and you get a better idea of what Obama was trying to say.

I found the speech inspirational as did most people that I’ve exchanged views with since yesterday. But I also found it "Presidential" - far superior in content and meaning than any speech ever given by Bush or Clinton or Bush senior. He spoke to us as adults - without the use of nonsensical hyperbole or any other kind of political gobbledygook. What a joy it will be to have this man lead and interact with us for the next eight years.

If there was anything he could have done better in his speech, it would have been to spend more time telling us about Reverend Wright. Presumably, away from the pulpit, the man doesn’t act like a raving lunatic. For instance, if he had said - or been able to show that out of hundreds of sermons that Wright has given over the years - it is only the two or three that have been circulating that contained the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that makes him look like an enemy of the state - and that his average sermon, though provocative, was no more so than you would find in just about any black church anywhere in the country on a Sunday morning. He showed loyalty in not disowning his pastor, but if all we get to see of him are those endless loops of invective, it is bound to be the subject of negative ads throughout the campaign and that will be an unfortunate distraction. Some pundits are already saying that it could be enough to derail Obama’s candidacy. Perhaps in future responses to such attacks which most assuredly will come, he will be able to show that there is more to the man than the impression we get from those video loops. He might even persuade Wright to be interviewed by a neutral newsman - if one can be found. Then again, that could make a bad situation worse. On the Hannity an Colmes show a few nights ago, they played part of an "interview" that he gave to that program in 2007. I put the word "interview" in quotes because the segment that they showed consisted of Hannity trying to ask questions and Wright responding with questions of his own about Hannity’s knowledge of Liberation Theology and the works of James Cone. As an interview, it was a disaster.

But overall, I think that being forced into having to confront the problems caused by his former pastor’s frightening rhetoric will result in a net plus. Very few people who were for Obama before these tapes began circulating will be negatively influenced by them - after all it’s Obama running for president, not his former pastor - but I believe that a large number of people who weren’t sure of Obama up to now, will be influenced positively by a speech that I think will be remembered as a seminal moment in our nation’s history.

Monday, March 17, 2008

There was a lot to comment on last week - Spitzer and the Hooker - Obama and the Nutty Preacher, but it was a bad week for me physically and it kept me focused on dealing with personal problems and away from blogging. I may have a few thing to say about those two stories later on - but for today the story that I can’t get out of my mind has nothing to do with politicians or their troubles, but with the kind of problem that is hard to believe could ever become a problem and that leaves me with a sense of disbelief that it became one at all.

In this crazy world, it’s hard to be shocked by the headlines that scream out at us every morning from our daily newspaper. We’ve become so used to stories of betrayal and corruption and disingenuousness and unfairness that more often than not we greet such stories with a shrug and a raised eyebrow and go on about our business. The story of Alton Logan - featured on 60 Minutes and in newspapers around the world, is not one of those. Not one that can be brushed aside with a shrug and a raised eyebrow and easily forgotten. Not when it’s the story of a man who has spent 26 years of his life behind bars for a crime to which someone else confessed 26 years ago. And what makes it a story that can’t be ignored and chalked up to one of those rotten deals that befall some people and about which nothing can be done - is to whom the confession was made.

The story’s there - in the link to the CBS 60 Minutes report - and you’ve probably heard about it from one source or another. Lawyers representing one Andrew Wilson on murder charges, were told by him that he had committed the murder for which Alton Logan had been convicted and given a life sentence. And client confidentiality prevented them from doing anything about it. The most they thought they could do was to prepare an affidavit saying that they had received "privileged information" that the murder had been committed by someone else - and persuaded Wilson to "allow" them to reveal the information after he died.

It’s really hard to find the words to continue these comments. The attorneys insist that they were bound by the attorney-client privilege - just as priests and doctors are bound to not reveal what they know about people who confide in them. The attorneys were ready to break their obligation of confidentiality had Logan been sentenced to death - but since the sentence was "only" life imprisonment, they felt they were off the hook. But could they have done anything beyond preparing an affidavit to show their painful awareness of their professional obligation to their client? You're damned right they could. They were able to persuade him to allow them to reveal his confession after his death. A lot of good that would have done if Logan had died first. In priso!! But one has to wonder why they weren’t able to persuade him to reveal his confession once his own case was resolved. Wilson was found guilty of two murders and was sentenced to life in prison. What harm would it have done to confess to a third murder and set an innocent man free?

One possible drawback would have been the potential sentence for that third murder. Maybe it would have been death rather than life imprisonment. But that’s really no argument. Thousands of inmates are sitting in jail having "plea bargained" their cases - admitting guilt in return for an arranged sentence. At the very least, Wilson could have been persuaded to allow his attorneys to find out if a plea bargain would have been offered in return for proof of Logan’s innocence. Wilson was never going to get out of jail anyway - so confessing to a third murder wouldn’t have placed him in a worse position.

But even if that circumstance didn’t exist - if the confession wasn’t from someone already serving a life sentence - surely there needs to be some way to allow attorneys to reveal so called "privileged" information if it will prevent a miscarriage of justice - particularly if that miscarriage is about to put a man in jail for life - or even deprive him of his life. What would be wrong with having someone appointed as some kind of legal ombudsman to handle precisely this kind of dilemma? Perhaps a judge who could either do this full time or part time. Or perhaps a number of judges who would take on such tasks on a revolving basis.

How would it work? I can’t say, but the premise would be simple. An attorney having the kind if information that Wilson’s lawyers had, would simply go to one of these judges/ombudsmen and present evidence that could only have come from the person who committed the crime - along with confirmation of a confession. The lawyer would not be compelled to reveal the identity of the guilty party - so the lawyer-client confidentiality would be maintained. But they would be compelled to take action if they were aware that someone had been wrongfully convicted - or perhaps even wrongfully indicted. And there would be a chance that some innocent person would not have to suffer the fate of Alton Logan.

The same rule should be applied to clergymen and physicians. No self-imposed professional code of conduct should be allowed to supersede the requirement to reveal exculpatory evidence that would clear someone wrongfully accused or convicted of a crime - particularly a capital crime.

As I watched and listened to the two attorneys "explain" how they were "compelled" to keep silent all these years, my feelings were a mixture of anger, disgust and disbelief. Even if they had to "keep silent" - there is no excuse in the world for them doing absolutely nothing about it. Logan had an attorney. They could have approached that attorney with exactly the same information that was in their "affidavit" and offered to help. They wouldn’t have been compelled to reveal the source of their information. Logan’s attorney would have understood that. But using what information Wilson could have provided about the murder, there might have been a way to cast doubt on the case against Logan.

There have been many cases of men serving years for crimes they did not commit - but they were cases where new evidence - often DNA evidence - was discovered. I don’t know of any case where a man was freed after a lawyer came forward to testify that a former client was the guilty party and they could now reveal that information because the man had died. If this case doesn’t result in some method being devised for attorneys to convey knowledge of someone’s innocence without violating their attorney-client confidentiality obligation, then the law, as Mr. Bumble said in Oliver Twist - is a ass, a idiot!!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

I sent the following e-mail to Hillary Clinton yesterday, with the title Your McCain Endorsement.

So you and Senator McCain bring a lifetime of experience to the White House and Senator Obama brings only a 2002 speech, presumably having been born on the day of that speech, leaving no time to acquire any kind of lifetime experience. Translation - if Hillary Clinton isn't the Democratic nominee - vote for John McCain.

If Senator Obama is the nominee I presume you'll be joining Senator Leiberman's "Republocratic" party with its stirring motto - One For Me - and All for Me." I certainly can't imagine you staying in the Democratic party with a presidential nominee who you clearly do not believe to be as ready to be President as the Republican nominee.

I wish you and Joe a happy future together.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Republicans must be celebrating today. Yesterday, John McCain wrapped up the Republican nomination and Hillary greeted his victory by giving him a generous dose of aid and comfort and is promising to continue doing exactly that. " I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House" she said. "Senator John McCain has a lifetime of experience that he’d bring to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002." By the time she finally backs down, she may have done too much damage to the Democratic party and to Barack Obama to defeat as weak a candidate as the Republicans have selected in decades . But it seems that Hillary doesn’t care. Her expressed devotion to the well being of this country has taken a back seat to her ambition. And she’s getting plenty of help.

Listening to the radio this morning, I heard reports about all kinds of Hillary supporters. A report from Texas for example, said that in twenty counties - and there may be more - there are 254 counties in that state - there was not a single vote for a Republican candidate. Not for McCain and not for Huckabee. But in those counties, Hillary won two to one. Ohio is another open primary state, so you can imagine what happened there. Right wing radio has been urging Republicans to vote for Hillary - and obviously a large enough number responded to make a difference. The Republicans would love to run against Hillary - but even if they’re unable to get that gift - they’ll do everything they can to achieve the second best scenario - a fractured Democratic party and a bloodied Democratic candidate - scorned and categorized as "not ready" by his chief rival for the nomination.

But Republicans who voted for Hillary yesterday aren’t the whole story. The rest of the story is part use of Rovian (as in Karl Rove) tactics used by the Clinton camp - and those poor, misguided souls who were influenced by them. How long ago was it when Hillary sat next to Obama and told the world how honored she was - just sitting next to him? This, followed by her staged histrionics about fliers that criticized her positions on healthcare and NAFTA. She called those fliers the kind of dirty tactics that Republican use. And then of course launched into a series of such attacks.

The Obama camp had little time to respond to the ridiculous "3 a.m." ad - and maybe it was easier to use the same visuals with a different message. But the response was poor. The vote to authorize military action against Iraq wasn’t a "3 a.m." moment. But there is no such "3.a.m" moment and Obama should have got on the boob tube and torn that ad to shreds.

He should have said something like
Clinton is trying to scare you with a situation that never happens. Yes, there are crises that heat up in the middle of the night - and there are occasions where the president is awakened to attend to them. But before that phone rings in the President’s bedroom - or more likely before an aid knocks on the door - a whole array of people have been exposed to whatever the problem is - and most likely are already assembled in the White House Situation Room in the West Wing. The joint chiefs - the Secretary of Defense , the Secretary of State, the National Security Advisor - and others. They will have reports and recommendations to make to the President That's the way it works whether it's 3 a.m. or 3 p.m.
And - just as she has challenged his readiness to handle that 3 a.m. crisis - he should ask what would make her the better choice to handle a crisis situation - whether it happens in the middle of the night or in broad daylight? Because of her so called 35 years of experience - which counts every year since she graduated from law school ? In those 35 years, what such crisis has she handled ? Her key advisors were asked that question in a telephone interview a few days ago . John Dickerson of Slate.com asked "What foreign policy moment would you point to in Hillary's career where she's been tested by crisis?" On the phone were Mark Penn, Howard Wolfson and Lee Feinstein - and their non-answer has been described as a "pregnant pause" followed by some nonsense about her serving on the Armed Services Committee and some military people who have endorsed her. Obama should use this audio over the visuals of her "3 a.m." commercial with appropriate captions.
"Hillary Clinton’s closest advisors explain why she is ready to handle a sudden foreign policy crisis." And after the pregnant pause and the lame "explanation." "And it isn’t even 3 a.m. It’s broad daylight!!"
And all of her other negative attacks should be answered just as forcefully. On NAFTA - Obama should respond with a commercial - with just him looking into the camera and saying
"Senator Clinton says that I am saying one thing about NAFTA on the stump and that I am saying something different to our NAFTA partners in private. The Prime Minister of Canada has said this is not true - that the leaked memo by a Canadian consulate official in Chicago saying that my public statements were more political than substantive is simply not the case. That I and my advisors have said the same thing to them about NAFTA that I have said during this campaign. That as President, I would seek to have the NAFTA agreement reformed. Senator Clinton has chosen to ignore the words of the Prime Minister and of the written statement of the Canadian Embassy that confirmed exactly that - that says ""there was no intention to convey, in any way, that Senator Obama and his campaign team were taking a different position in public from views expressed in private, including about NAFTA " - and instead has continued to repeat the lie that some have conjured up from the wording of this mysteriously leaked memo. A few weeks ago, Senator Clinton was accusing my campaign of using Republican type dirty tricks by sending out two mailings criticizing her position on healthcare and on NAFTA. And I ask Senator Clinton - what kind of campaigning do you call it when you keep repeating something as being true that the Embassy and the Prime Minister of our neighbor to the north says is not true?
But what is most disturbing to me about yesterday’s results is that - apart from the Republican mischief making - the negative attacks seemed to have moved some people from the ranks of the undecided - or maybe from the Obama camp - over to Hillary’s side. It has always been thus and it has always been disturbing. It says that there are people who have the right to vote by virtue of their natural or acquired citizenship, who, in a rational world, wouldn’t be allowed to vote on anything. Rational people decide which candidate to support on the basis of who they are, what skills they bring to the table, what views they express on a variety of issues and what ideas that they have for the future of our country.. They recognize negative ads for what they are. Nonsensical attacks designed to alter the thought processes of feeble minds. You and I - you the reader and I the writer of this blog - are affected only one way by such ads. They disgust us. There is no way that they would sway us to support the candidate on whose behalf they were launched - and if we had planned to support that candidate, we might have second thoughts. But the fact that this kind of campaigning works is a black mark on our otherwise enviable political system.

Supporters of Barack Obama are saying that he should now respond to the gutter campaigning of Hillary Clinton with a negative barrage of his own. I disagree. Obama will be the Democratic candidate and he needs to go into the general election battle with clean hands. He has said that we need to do away with the politics of the past - and for sure that includes negative campaigning - and he should live up to that principle. But what he should do is counter punch every lie, distortion and disparagement hurled at him by Senator Clinton - immediately and with vigor. Above all, he should parse her claims of superior experience with challenges. Before being elected to the Senate, she had never run for or been elected to anything, so the sum total of her legislative experience has been her years in the Senate - and every time she claims to have superior "experience" than Obama, he should ask her a John Dickerson type of question.

It’s a pity that this has to happen - that the two remaining candidates for the Democratic nomination have to continue to bloody each other while the Republicans chortle and McCain builds support and raises money. One can only hope that Hillary Clinton can be persuaded to let her ambition take a back seat to the needs of her party and of the nation - and to confine her campaign rhetoric and advertising to issues and stop demeaning her opponent. It’s what drives people away from the political process - and the irony of that approach is that the person she is trying to demonize in order to win the race is someone who is attracting a host of new people to that process.

One last thought about the Texas primary. I don’t know how many Republicans ignored their own primary and - as urged by Rush Limbaugh - voted for Hillary - but I would imagine that Joe Lieberman was watching the process with a grin on his face. Here’s a guy who ran for re-election to the Senate as a "Petitioning Democrat" - won with Republican votes - caucuses with the Senate Democrats and is supporting John McCain for President. As Finley Peter Dunne once said - and many have repeated since - "Politics Ain’t Beanbag.' Maybe not - but right now, I don’t know what the hell it is.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Some time ago a mailing list company confused my name with that of my wife and created an entry consisting of my first and last names and my wife’s middle initial - and I’ve been getting mail addressed to this non existent individual ever since. For the most part, it hasn’t created any particular problem. Almost all of it is solicitation and gets thrown away without even being opened. An exception was a letter from the Director’s Guild of America that arrived a couple of years ago. It turned out that they were actually looking for me because there was money belonging to me that had been languishing in their pension fund since the days of my employment with ABC television - and that was a lifetime ago. And the other day an envelope arrived that was almost as pleasant a surprise as the DGA letter. It was from the Republican National Committee - and the outside of the envelope said
Like all such letters, it’s main purpose was to solicit money, but its arrival and its contents intrigued me because here was one of our two major political parties assuming that this non existent person on a mailing list was a Republican - and not just any Republican but, according to the letter - one of a "select group" whose opinions would be used to develop a blueprint for the Republican party for the next ten years!!

It’s hard for me to pass up an opportunity like that. - to be able to shape the future of the Republican party - but I have to decline. Not out of a sense of honesty. Not because the addressee doesn’t exist and the occupant of this household is not a registered Republican. But because the questions on the survey - stupid as the are - allow only for a yes, no or undecided answer. So instead, I will publish some of the questions here, along with appropriate answers, in the hope that some Republican official will happen upon this site by accident and become suddenly aware of how the hoped for "blueprint" is doomed to utter failure by virtue of the stupidity of the questions posed.

There are 23 questions in five different categories - 4 on "Homeland Security Issues"- 6 on "Economic Issues" - 5 on "Domestic Issues" - 3 on "Social Issues" and 5 on "Defense Issues." I’ve selected one question from each category to demonstrate the idiocy of the Republican party philosophy - if indeed that is what they are intended to represent - and I’ve added my idea of appropriate responses that I hope would be shared by any half way intelligent citizen - even a Republican.

Q: Should Republicans do everything they can to prevent liberal Democrats from repealing the USA Patriot Act and other important laws that help our intelligence agencies protect America.

A: No, you idiots. Republicans and Democrats should work together to make sure that in our need to protect ourselves against terrorist attacks, we don’t create laws that deprive us of freedoms to the extent that the remedies we enact become a greater long term threat to our constitutional protections than the threat of those who wish to do us harm. And by the way, it doesn’t help to design questions that infer that Democrats are against protecting American citizens from international terrorists. Didn’t Rove retire?

Q: Should Republicans unite to keep our pro-growth achievements from the past seven years intact by blocking new federal government bureaucracy and red tape?

A: You’re kidding, right? It’s a trick question. "Pro-growth achievements." It’s code for something and we have to figure it out, right? Maybe it has something to do with enlarged testicles and attacking countries we designate as being "evil."

Q: Should Republicans oppose Democrat plans for one-size-fits-all government-run healthcare?

A: Yer darn tootin they should!! I remember the last time that damned government run veteran’s hospital tried to fix up my broken foot with a shoe cast that wouldn’t have fit my sainted grandmother - and she wore a size 5!! Or maybe that was the plot of a Seinfeld episode. I’m getting old and sometimes I get confused - especially when I listen to what Democrats say when they’re running for office. Of course I haven’t heard of any government-run one-size-fits-all healthcare plan - but I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that’s what they mean when they talk about getting everyone covered with health insurance. If so, I’m for it - at least as a stop gap until we can get single payer universal health insurance. Except for those tiny shoe casts. They’ve got to have more than one size. Or it’ll never work. And incidentally, if you think "government" would interfere with doctors and hospitals more than insurance companies are already doing, you’ve got a big surprise coming.

Q: Do you think Congress should pass the Federal Marriage Amendment, protecting marriage as a union between a man and a woman?

A: The physical contortions of Republicans never cease to amaze me. Out of one corner of the mouth, they insist that government should stay out of people’s private affairs. But when it comes to the most private of personal affairs - between individuals , particularly between individuals in their bedrooms - the other corner of the mouth is saying that they want government right there - setting rules and refereeing behavior. I can pat my belly with one hand and make a circular motion with my other hand at the same time - but I can’t talk out of both sides of my mouth saying different things at the same time - so no, I don’t think Congress should pass any laws about marriage.

Q: Do you agree that our top military priority should be fighting terrorists?

A: No I don’t. That’s the kind of mind set that was used to justify our invasion and occupation of Iraq - as though Iraq was "terrorist-land" and the "terrorist army" could be defeated and caused to surrender unconditionally - after which there’d be no more terrorist threat. The top military priority should be to defend the country The secondary and tertiary and down the line responsibility of the military should be to be deployed to any part of the world to protect out national interest - and where it makes sense to use military force to protect that interest. Deploying to Afghanistan made sense. Our national interest was threatened by Osma Bin Laden and by the forces of the Taliban. "Fighting terrorists" should be a top priority of our police and intelligence services in cooperation with the police and intelligence services of all other countries willing and able to work with us to combat the world wide threat of terrorism, combined with the deployment of military forces where it makes sense.

I just hope that Senator McCain gets the "blueprint" that this questionnaire is designed to produce before the presidential campaign gets underway. Once I’m sure he has it in hand and is using the questions and the answers provided by that select group of Republicans of which I’m an honorary member - I’ll be in touch with Las Vegas to place my bet on the election outcome

Any guess as to who I’m picking to win??