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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I’m sorry but I just can’t get over the idea of Joe Lieberman keeping his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and continuing to caucus with the Senate Democrats - up to three weeks ago his arch enemies, led by someone he said was lacking the skills and experience to become President of the United States.

I know harsh things are said about each other by opponents in party primaries - said by people who are members of the same party, who would never dream of speaking at a rival party’s convention or support a rival party’s candidate for the presidency. So we had Hillary Clinton saying that she and John McCain had lots of experience to offer while Obama had a speech as the core of his resume. And we had Joe Biden accusing Obama of not supporting the troops. The more I hear those kinds of attacks during presidential primaries, the more I pine for the smoke filled rooms with party members choosing candidates behind closed doors. Primaries may be more democratic - small d - but they can also be more destructive and when the primary season ends and candidates are chosen - the two candidates for the office in question have a basket of ammunition to hurl at each other - courtesy of their opponent’s fellow party members. Still, former primary opponents usually band together to support whoever wins their competition - and so we have Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton.

But Joe Lieberman is a whole other kettle of fish. To me, he represents a bar lowered to a level that should never be reached in presidential politics - and I’m deeply disappointed at the way Obama and members of the Democratic Senate caucus have allowed him to slither under it. Lieberman accumulated his seniority status and thus his committee chairmanship, as a member of the Democratic party. Even after his most recent reelection when he ran after losing the Democratic primary - he ran as - and still calls himself - an Independent Democrat. That alone makes it difficult for his former Democratic colleagues to forgive his endorsement of John McCain for president - but had he left it at that, even I, who have lost all respect for the man, would not have condemned him. After all, he’s known McCain for years, considers him a friend and most likely was genuine in his belief that McCain would make a better president than Obama. But he didn’t leave it at that. He spoke at the Republican convention, campaigned vigorously for and with McCain - and attacked Obama just as vigorously. Now he wants to be welcomed back to the Democratic caucus and regrettably, Obama is accommodating him.

Some insist that by saying that he holds no grudge and by urging the Democratic caucus to welcome Lieberman back into the Democratic fold - Obama is demonstrating an aspect of the "change" that he has been promising - the aspect of reaching out to those who oppose him - to be bipartisan in his relations with the House and Senate. I think he is demonstrating something else - something perilously close to a lack of judgment on matters of ethical responsibility and culpability. I’m sure there is a limit to how many times the future president is willing to turn the other cheek in his effort to promote political harmony. But if Lieberman’s behavior doesn’t reach that tolerance limit, you have to wonder what does - or what will.

Examples abound of terrible behavior being tolerated in order to achieve some goal. The most common example is in what is tolerated in sports - football in particular, where a blind eye is often turned to irresponsible behavior off the field as long as game performance contributes to a winning season. But even team owners and coaches who subscribe to the belief that winning is "everything" have their limits in what kind of behavior they’ll accept in return for an exceptional ability to run, throw or catch. And star players have been let go when their behavior reaches an intolerable level - even when their absence diminishes the team’s chances of winning.

What Obama seems to be signaling is that he has a virtually unlimited tolerance level for what most of the people who supported him would view as totally unacceptable behavior. To me this translates into a misguided sense of the worth of political accommodation and its value above ethical considerations. As I’ve said, you have to wonder what it would take for Obama to refrain from holding out the hand of reconciliation. You have to wonder how such an attitude might translate into dealing with the despots of the world. You have to wonder where Obama would draw the line - at what point he would view behavior as unacceptable and conduct himself accordingly.

I watched Keith Olbermann play a tape of a Joe Lieberman post election interview last night in which he denied ever saying that Obama wasn’t ready to be president - followed by a tape of a much earlier interview in which he said exactly that - after which Keith declared him last night’s "Worse Person in the World." I think he has lost all credibility and shouldn’t be running a committee as important as Homeland Security. If Obama needs a critical Senate vote or two to get legislation past potential filibusters, I think he’d be better off looking for it across the aisle - to people like George Voinovich or Olympia Snow. The cost of getting it from Joe Lieberman is just too high.

Monday, November 17, 2008

In most democracies, campaigning for public office ends after votes have been counted and the winners declared. We are one of those democracies - or at least we used to be. But apparently not any more. No one is challenging the declaration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States - and while he has yet to announce his intention to run again in 2012 - the campaign for that election seems to be well under way. And there’s still 64 days before Obama is sworn in for his first term!! And who are the pundits talking about as a possible candidate four years from now? Sarah Palin!! She who started out as a gimmick to try to boost the already doomed to failure candidacy of John McCain, is being spoken of as someone to be taken seriously as the future face of the Republican party. To which all dedicated Democrats are parroting and paraphrasing the departing president - "bring her on!!!"

The rest of the world, while applauding our selection of Barack Obama to lead us for the next four years, must think we are nuts. A nation with a split personality. I prefer to think of it as a joke being perpetuated by television talking heads who are looking for something to replace their lead story of the past two years. I can’t believe that these pundits who continue to interview, talk about and focus their cameras on the lady from Alaska are serious when they talk about her as being a serious future player on the world scene. Not when she continues to write dialogue for Tina Fey. What could the comedy writers add to this for a comedy routine? Sarah in one of her endless post election interviews about herself
"I’m like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I’m like, don’t let me miss the open door. And if there is an open door in ‘12 or four years later, and if it is something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I’ll plow through that door."
On the other hand, we’ve already had a leader who went to war because God told him to do so - so maybe the thought of divine door opening isn’t just something for Tina Fey to make us laugh about - but something to give us concern. If a Michelle Bachman could get reelected to Michigan’s sixth congressional district after revealing herself as someone at least two card short of a full deck during her appearance on Hardball with Chris Matthews, you have to believe that anything could happen!!

I mean, what have we come to folks? We’ve just had a chance to breathe a few sighs of relief that the election campaign - otherwise known as "The Silly Season" is finally over - when it begins all over again with a cast of comic book characters. We should be having serious discussions about the problems facing the nation and the world and how Obama will tackle them - and we’re seeing and hearing Sarah Palin on our television screens day and night. And John McCain isn’t making it any better. One minute he’s relaxed and joking with Jay Leno and people who have known him for years are smiling and saying the old McCain is back. The next thing you know, he’s saying how proud he is of his running mate and urging the reelection of Saxby Chamblis to the Senate from Georgia. . That’s the same Saxby Chanblis whose 2002 campaign ads in his race against Max Cleland McCain called "worse than disgraceful."

I know that all is supposed to be fair (or unfair) - in love, war and politics - but at a moment in history when we have made history - when we have shown that we have finally matured as a people - have reached adulthood if you will - we have one of the principals in the just concluded struggle acting like a child, egged on with words of praise from the defeated Republican candidate and with our media presenting her antics to us as though what she is saying and doing should be taken seriously. I know that Democratic strategists - and perhaps even Obama himself - are salivating over the ridiculous possibility that the Republican party will try to resurrect itself using Sarah Palin as its linchpin - but I will be astonished and more than just a little worried about the state of our national sanity if the fascination with Caribou Barbie as a possible future president extends beyond Thanksgiving.

Maybe after November 27 we will have had our fill of turkey and turn our attention to the serious business of repairing the damage done to our country over the last eight years.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On local results and on Nader and Lieberman…..

I had a few more thoughts about the election - but they didn’t fit in with the theme of what I wrote on November 4th and 6th - so I’ll express them here.

First of all, not everyone that I voted for was elected and frankly I didn’t expect them to be elected because we’re talking about the Democratic stranglehold on Cook County, Illinois - a place where political offices are more like businesses - in some cases family businesses!! It’s virtually impossible to oust the entrenched office holders in the county and in the city of Chicago and this election was business as usual. About the only way office holders get removed in this part of the world is when they get indicted and convicted.

I don’t know how it is in the rest of the country but I would imagine that similar conditions exist in other counties and states where one party has been in power for decades. For example, in Cook County, we elect our judges and I have no doubt that 99% of the people who elect them have no idea who they are and what skills they have. The concept is so disingenuous that we have had lawyers change their surnames so that they could appear on the ballot as someone with an ethnic background that would appeal to a large segment of the electorate. And once judges are elected, they run on a "retention ballot" which would require a huge number of voters to vote "no" for them to lose their jobs - something that almost never happens.

We have just had a national election that has resulted in a shift of power to the left and where strongly entrenched incumbents have been ousted by an aroused electorate. But none of this has trickled down to the local level - to the kind of local offices that should be appointed rather than elected - so they continue to be part of the "ownership society" - the "ownership" of local political offices by a single party, able to manipulate the voters to do their bidding, election after election. It gets frustrating voting against these entrenched office holders but I keep doing it, hoping that one day I’ll be joined by more than a token number of fellow protesters.

Less frustrating - actually pleasurable, was the total non-effect of Ralph Nader on the outcome of the presidential election. Unfortunately - and here I’m making a prediction - it won’t convince him to stop his emergence every four years to declare that there’s no difference between the two major presidential candidates and that he is the answer to America’s future. The ego of this man is truly something to behold. We used to have someone in the Chicago area who ran in election after election - for whatever office might be available to run for. His name was Lar "America First" Daly. He would campaign driving around town proclaiming his nonsense from a sound truck, wearing an Uncle Sam suit. He was a nuisance but also a local joke for years. The only difference between him and Nader is that Nader only runs for one office and only does it every four years. Daly didn’t see himself as a clown and neither does Nader - which is why I predict he’ll be back. You can insult the man to his face and point out the illogic of his quadrennial quest in seventeen languages - and he will tell you that you’re the one who doesn’t understand our democracy and our electoral process. With a withering look yet.

Totally frustrating is the possibility that Joe Lieberman will not be dealt with as he should be dealt with - as the sole member of the Lieberman party - motto "Lieberman for Lieberman." I have pretty much approved of the moves Barack Obama has made since he won the election. He’s looked and sounded comfortably presidential. But there’s no way I can agree with his belief that "bygones should be bygones" and that Joe the defector should keep his committee chairmanship and continue to caucus with the Democratic majority.

I know Lieberman was Obama’s mentor when he arrived in the Senate - but he didn’t just endorse a Republican for president - he campaigned for him and for Sarah Palin and attacked Barack Obama. And this after he ran for vice president on the Democratic ticket eight years ago. Forgiveness may be divine but I think Joe would more likely be facing wrath than forgiveness if he was pleading his case to a deity.

I know the Democrats have not yet reached the magical, filibuster proof 60 number in the Senate and that they would like to have as many votes as possible available to them on critical issues where Republicans are likely to disagree - but there has to be a limit to the behavior they will tolerate just to rack up one extra vote - and then only when it suits the Senator from Connecticut to vote with the majority. Remember, this is a man who cares little for the will of voting members of his former party. A more principled man would have bowed to the will of those voting in Connecticut’s 2006 Democratic primary and allowed the winner to run against the Republican candidate. But Joe refused to abide by the will of the voters and - with George W Bush’s blessing - won re-election against the Democratic and Republican candidates with the votes of Republicans. He is a man not to be trusted and the Democrats should be happy to let him go and practice his brand of democratic principles with the Republicans.

I know the Democratic members of the Senate want to be as supportive as possible of the newly elected president and don’t want the relationship to get off on the wrong foot. But forgetting or ignoring the fact that they are a separate and equal branch of government would also be getting off on the wrong foot. The vote on Lieberman’s future with the Democratic caucus is by secret ballot. The senators should vote their conscience - and I hope it will be to add a bedspread to the bed that "Lieberman for Lieberman" Joe has made for himself to lie on.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

In the end, none of the nonsense mattered. Not Jeremiah Wright. Not Bill Ayres. Not Rashid Khalidi. Not the ridiculous notion that he wasn’t born in Hawaii and that his birth certificate was a fake. And I would imagine if his actual
birth announcement
in the Honolulu Advertiser had surfaced earlier, that too would have been declared a fake by the right wing crazies.

In the end, the concept of an African American president was no longer fictional. In the end, life imitated art and those other fine presidents who were able to take over the reins of government at moments of crisis - James Earl Jones - Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lister.

In the end, more Americans voted for hope and against fear. And more Americans went to the polls to wipe away the stains of our history of slavery and discrimination. We were presented with the opportunity to say whether we had matured or not - whether we ready to take the next evolutionary step in this ongoing democratic experiment called the United States of America - and millions of us gave the answer that has uplifted our nation and has been greeted with cheers around the world - yes we can. And we did.

And yet it wasn’t perfect. Among the millions who went to the polls - there were some who cast votes that would seem to fly in the face of democracy - and of fairness and decency. It seems that a convicted felon will win reelection to the Senate where he will surely be ousted by his colleagues. What could the people of Alaska have been thinking? Haven’t they had enough of this longest serving, irascible political relic? And what were the people of Minnesota’s sixth congressional district thinking on November 4? How could they reelect Michelle Bachman - the crazy women who went on Hardball with Chris Matthews and accused Barack Obama of being anti-American and suggested that all members of congress should be investigated to see who is pro-American and who is anti-American. And in California, marriage between same sex couple that had been declared legal by the California Supreme Court - suddenly became illegal!!

And of course the right wing hate mongers didn’t even pause in their stride. My wife doesn’t approve when she’s with me in the car - but I am in the habit of punching in the local radio station that carries the right wing syndicated talkers all day long - just to see what garbage they’re peddling to their devoted listeners - and yesterday I punched in a minute or so of Rush Limbaugh - and there he was, voice dripping with derision, sneering at Obama and at some of the themes that he advanced during the campaign. A minute was all I could take - but Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn managed to record the foul mouthed one’s election day program and published this gem from it in today’s column.
The conservative bloviator called Obama a socialist, twice referred to him as a "little squirrel" and warned that he was trying to steal the election. He also passed along reports that two members of the Black Panthers had been seen looking menacing outside a Philadelphia polling place. "Here’s the hope and change" he said. "If you’re going to vote today in Philadelphia, let me tell you what the hope and change is. If you bought into this notion of hope and change, the hope and change is that you don’t get killed. That you don’t get beat up by a Black Panther with a nightstick as you’re trying to vote against change."
As I said on November 4, before any results were known, I suspect that there will be people who will go through the next four or eight years proclaiming that the president isn’t their president. That probably would have happened to a lesser extent if McCain had been elected.

But I have a strong hunch that in the years ahead, hope will prevail over fear and disdain. That enough people will say - to quote the newly elected president - not this time!! Some of the solid "red" states turned a lighter hue in this election - and some changed color completely. Some pundits are predicting that even more will turn "blue" four years from now. The hate mongering talkers of the right kept up their ceaseless chatter throughout the eight years of the Clinton presidency - and still found plenty to deride and sneer at for the eight years when one of "their" presidents was in power. They’re probably all slobbering at the prospect of four or eight years of relentless attacks on Obama. I won’t call it criticism because criticism is not really what these folks do. But I have a hunch that Obama will change the landscape to such a degree that their influence will wane and that more and more radio station owners will decide along with us that enough is enough and that the country needs to move away from a diet of hate and towards something more palatable. Maybe even the companies that sponsor the garbage that these people spout will help to effect a move away from hate and fear and derision and decide to put their advertising dollars to work elsewhere.

It begins anew on January 20, 2009 when the rest of the world will echo what we who voted for Barack Obama will be proclaiming proudly from the rooftops. America is back!!!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

By the end of today I would imagine that most of us will be heaving sighs of relief - not that the election is finally over and that - unless we have a repeat of Bush v Gore - we have a president elect - but that we will no longer be subjected to the ridiculous campaign advertising that has marked this election as one of the most disgusting in my memory. And not just at the presidential level - to which I will refer shortly - but at county, state and congressional levels. We have some hotly contested congressional races in the Chicago metropolitan area and I have seen advertising on behalf of some candidates that should - in a rational society, result in their immediate removal for contention for anything above the level of dog catcher. Or maybe the level of the person who sweeps up at the dog pound.

What is so sad about nonsensical political advertising is the clear implication that the candidates - or their handlers - think that the public is stupid. What other conclusion could you reach when a television ad clams that the combination of President Bush and a sitting congressman was responsible for all that is currently wrong in the country? Or the claims of a sitting congress person that he or she has the power to affect all kinds of changes - or has already done so. All by himself or herself. Or of an ad by a sitting congressman that his opponent "likes taxes." And what is one to make of ads that claim a candidate is "fighting" for something or other - or will fight for something or other. Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult to accomplish anything in congress or in state legislatures. They’re all so damned busy fighting.

I have reached s point where I scream at the television screen when one of these ads appears. I also switch stations as fast as I can or mute the sound. Were I one of the voters to whom these ads are aimed, they would persuade me to do only one thing - to vote against the candidate who says that he or she has "approved" the ridiculous and insulting message.

Which brings me to the national campaign in which John McCain and his surrogates have accused Barack Obama of being a socialist, a communist, a Marxist and a wealth redistributor. And most recently, the fact that he and Rashid Khalidi both taught at the University of Chicago and that Khaldi is a Palestinian who might naturally support the Palestinian side of the conflict with Israel - and that he attended a farewell dinner and offered up a toast to Khaldi when he was leaving to join the faculty of Columbia University - was being used to smear him as being somehow anti-Israel. And even today, as both sides continue to hold rallies and air commercials - I wouldn’t be surprised is some new accusation is hurled at Obama. Maybe that he’s "anti-plumber" - or "anti-Joe." Here we are - or were - in the closing hours of what many believe is the most important election of our time - and the McCain campaign is centered around Joe the Plumber who isn’t Joe and isn’t a plumber!!

I spoke to my brother who lives in England over the weekend - and while interest in our election is high in the mother country - they have difficulty understanding our method of campaigning and the enormous sums spent to get messages across. Television advertising isn’t allowed in British elections - but then of course their national elections are all the sum of local elections. No one runs for Prime Minister nationally. Whichever party wins the most seats wins the election and both parties pre-select who will be Prime Minster - assuming he wins his parliamentary seat. With only local elections covering relatively small areas and small numbers of constituents, candidates can manage to get their messages to voters without the need for expensive and insulting broadcast advertising. That system wouldn’t work here but we need a better method than the one we’ve got.

If you’ve ever watched "Question Time in the House" on C-Span - you’ve seen Britain’s current Prime Minister argue with David Cameron, who would become Prime Minister if his party wins a majority of parliamentary seats in the next election. No "primaries" to determine who the opposition candidate for the highest office would be. It’s a known quantity. Mr. Cameron is the "shadow" Prime Minister and would assume that office of his party wins. But even if he did win - and here’s why I bring up the subject of how the English conduct their elections - very little would change. There are differences between the Labour (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) and the Conservative party - but not the sort of bitter disagreements that separate our parties. There’s are no religious issues. There are no "evangelicals" that support one party over another. There are no abortion issues with the parties on opposite sides of the issue. There’s no huge argument between the parties about their involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The social welfare programs that have been in place for years would continue under a Conservative government - maybe even improve, There are no voters threatening to leave the country if their candidate doesn’t win. There is no high level of suspicion between voters supporting opposing parties. No one’s "patriotism" is questioned. No one is accused of being "un-British." There is not a palpable level of hatred held by members of one party against the candidate of the opposing part.

Would that such was the case here. Much as I am disturbed at the attack advertising that has flooded the airways and filled our mailboxes during this campaign, I am even more disturbed at how bitterly divided we seem to be as individuals when it comes to our political references. You can see that bitterness in the faces and hear it in the voices of voters supporting the two candidates. Sometimes those differences are best revealed by those who make a living laughing at them. - as The Daily Show’s John Oliver did a few nights ago. As a comedy show, The Daily Show wants to evoke laughter and so they show how nonsensical some people can be in their beliefs - and on the surface, it’s funny. But beneath the surface it isn’t funny at all. There is hatred out there - coming from both sides, though I tend to believe there are more people who think the country is finished if Barack Obama wins than those who think John McCain will be a national disaster. We’ve seen it with the derisive use of Obama’s middle name by "warm up" acts at McCain and Palin rallies. We’ve seen it in the hateful e-mails and blog postings accusing Obama of being everything from un-American - or not even American - to being a secret agent of Islamic terrorists.

As much as this election has engendered a heightened interest in our democratic process with perhaps more people voting than in any previous election - it has also brought our differences into sharp focus - and these aren’t differences of nuance but of substance. No matter who wins today, there will be pleas for all Americans to rally round the new president, but I suspect that many of us will go through the next four - maybe eight years - proclaiming that he - whoever it is - isn’t our president. It’s been that way for the past eight years - with the hatred for George Bush reaching a fever pitch. I hope it doesn’t happen with either Obama or McCain in the White House - but it’s a small hope. We are too divided. There are too many small issues that divide us and loom large in our national elections. And we have a long way to go to get over our racial divide. We may indeed be the greatest country on earth but we have a long way to go to reach the America that Obama described in his 2004 Democratic convention speech - not a nation made up of Blue states and Red states - but a truly United States. Starting tonight, we’ll be tested to see how close we can come to being the nation of Obama’s dream. I wish us all luck.