Monday, October 27, 2008

A couple of old posts from Rick D's Obamablog

I suspect the site will be down soon, or in any case will not stay up indefinitely, so I've snagged a couple of old posts from there.

The moment I became a fan
Friday, February 29, 2008 4:55 PM

So, like many people, I'd increasingly come to appreciate what Obama was saying -- all the good things about hope and change, all the sensible policy statements, etc. Of course, in our hypercynical world, I actually expect to be lied to, or at least swindled. But increasingly I was starting to think that, even if he couldn't live up to them, I wanted our next president to have pretty much exactly the ideals that Barack is talking about.

But my watershed moment came in South Carolina. You remember South Carolina: the state that delivered the Bill Clinton candidacy, the state the campaigns came to rolling off of Hillary Clinton's win in New Hampshire, and ... the state where Hillary fired the Bill Clinton missile. Bill Clinton had spent most of the campaign smiling and exuding confidence, leading with that lantern jaw and increasingly ruddy cheeks and that squinty smile. (Sometimes watching Bill Clinton is like reaching for that fourth beer: you're pretty sure your judgement is getting clouded, but it just feels great.)

Anyway, in those days leading up to South Carolina, Hillary Clinton directed Bill Clinton in a broad attack on Obama. In a forum where Bill could just talk -- no questions, no accountability, no focus on the issues -- Bill flamed Barack, calling his candidacy a "fairy tale" and other negative talk. I felt anger toward both Clintons, along with the familiar revulsion of watching someone whom I though was a pretty good person getting dragged through the mud.

We know what happened, of course: South Caroline went HUGE for Obama, catapulted him into the current string of victories (10? 11?), and he was off to the races.

But the best part of the story is: when asked about the vilification from the Clinton campaign, Obama just said, "Senator Clinton and I were friends before this campaign began, and we'll be friends after it ends." Grace, charity, and a nose for the high road: THAT'S what I want in my next president.

Something I've been carrying around
Wednesday, February 27, 2008 3:50 PM

Originally, I thought the Democratic party would nominate John Edwards. Not necessarily because I 'm an Edwards fan -- although I like him, and he's grown on me, and I think he may still have a part to play in the 2008 drama. No, I just figured Hillary is unelectable, and this country just wasn't going to vote for a black guy with a name like "Barack." Or "Obama." Particularly in this nutty system in which the Iowa caucus disproportionately determines who will run for president. Everyone knows that pork-munching, gun-toting, law-and-order types in Iowa would never go for the skinny dark guy with the foreign name.

Resoundingly wrong. I've never been more proud of this country than when Iowa went for Obama.

And Iowa made me look in the mirror and confront my own bigotries. Why would I think that this state or this country would not elect a person of color? Why did I think my country was so shallow that only good-looking white men could get elected (Romney and Edwards are both gone)? The real victory for me was realizing that I no longer thought of Obama in terms of race or any other demographic, but instead had started to perceive in Obama the best that America can be.

Increasingly I do not think that the Obama candidacy is "historic" because he's mixed race, but because the level of optimism and hope for a better life is so well-modelled that I cannot help but hope and aspire to be a better person.

Barack Shows 'Em in Missouri

From my good friend Gerry, I received a link to the St Louis Post Dispatch's endorsement of Barack Obama for President. It is one of the most straightforward and well-written pieces I've read in the last three elections and I commend it to you.

Among the highlights:

In the crucible that is a presidential campaign, his intellect, his temperament and equanimity under pressure consistently have been impressive. He has surrounded himself with smart, capable advisers who have helped him refine thorough, nuanced policy positions.

In a word, Mr. Obama has been presidential.

John McCain has served his country well, but in the end, he may have wanted the presidency a little too much, so much that he has sacrificed some of the principles that made him a heroic figure in war and in peace. In every way possible, he has earned the right to retire.

I'm not sure I've yet heard it put so well: he has earned the right to retire.

Missouri, by the way, has gone Democrat only three of the last ten elections (Carter & Clinton, twice). Sure would be nice to paint the heartland blue.

Barack's soles

Here's my current favorite picture of Barack Obama. (Credit to Callie Johnson at Digital Journalist and hat tip to Fred Dobbs.)

The photo was taken in March 2008, probably about the time Sarah Palin was being vetted, and a couple of months before the Republican National Party dropped a cool $150,000 on her clothing, hair and makeup. In addition to the composition, the message resonates: this is a man who was built for walking, built for the long haul, and not afraid to take it on the road. This is a man who does his own work, comfortable in his own skin wherever he is. Incidentally, check out the surroundings. I don't know where in Providence, RI this was taken, but this room has the feel of real small business in America: unremarkable conference table, sturdy but basic chairs, a serviceable speakerphone, and a couple of waste paper baskets. This man is at home where most of us are at home: in modest surroundings, working hard and trying to make as good a life as we can for ourselves, our families, and those around us.

Plus, check out the upside-down copy of "Audacity of Hope." Excellent.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Palin and Pontius

This button has become one of my favorites (just as "Republicans for Voldemort" was the hands-down winner for 2004).

I chuckled when a friend sent it a few weeks ago, but I'm drawn back to it now as the parallels grow starker and more ominous. In the biblical story, "chief priests and elders" of the establishment circulate through the crowd, fomenting a mob mentality that leads to the inevitable cry: Crucify him! Over the past weeks, the mood at the otherwise inconsequential Palin rallies has become darker and uglier, with the crowd yelling "Treason," "Traitor" and "Kill Him" as Sarah Palin piles on the sleaze.

I can't help but wonder about the reservoir of anger Sarah Palin has tapped into, and which indeed may be her only legacy to American politics by this time next month. Thoughts welcome.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Energizing the basest

Sarah Palin knocked me out during the Republican convention, more for her pluck than her message. People that look a lot like people I know and respect were talking about how the Palin addition to the ticket had "energized the base."

However, the more I reflect on the Palin experience, the more disappointed I am in her and the more appalled I am by McCain's decision.

First, there is what might be called the Alaska experience: One trooper more or less, maybe one librarian more or less, maybe some pork, maybe some questionable use of state funds....but the last two months have been like a water torture of revelations. Over the weekend, we were treated a tortured explanation of Palin "abuse" of an Alaska state trooper, using terms like "improper" and "impermissible", yet somehow managing to conclude that Palin's behavior was within her rights as governor.

The McCain-Palin campaign declared a day ahead of the report's release that she had been cleared of any wrongdoing.

On top of her attempted censorship of the local library, her twisted credit-taking for the "bridge to nowhere," her non-existent stance "standing up to big oil", this latest violation starts to look less like pluck and more like a pattern.

Second, after the incredible party at the Republican convention, there has been the lingering hangover of Palin's contributions to the national discussion. I cannot fault her inability to discuss the Bush doctrine, since the Bush administration has never acted in a coherent enough way to have something as recognizable as a doctrine. George W Bush has never satisfactorily explained why we're in Iraq -- we now know for certain that it wasn't to find al-Qaeda or weapons of mass destruction, and the current pols don't seem too whipped to figure anything else out -- but ironically, this is the only foreign policy decision Palin seems to endorse.

No, the hangover has worsened through interviews with Charles Gibson and Katie Couric that range from embarrassing to disastrous. Both of these conversations show a Palin way WAY out of her depth, trying to remain likable and plucky while using just enough carefully coached phrases to imply that she has depth. Nowhere in all the discussions of foreign policy does she once mention an ally, does she mention the United Nations, does she show any understanding of how or why the two Gulf wars are alike (successful military undertaking) or different (world support for our position). Nowhere in all the discussions of domestic issues does she show any sense at all for the diversity -- in wealth, opinion, belief, or ANY other dimension -- present in the United States. She defines and sticks to the single hockey mom character in the hopes that the debate and the election can be about whether that character has value, rather than how it is that her candidacy and administration can raise and support all the characters in this country.

But of course, life doesn't really owe us a candidate who is completely familiar with all the issues. (This is particularly true of vice presidents. Don't you think that a bunch of your friends, or your kids' teachers if you're lucky, or even the kids themselves, are qualified to be vice president?) After all, Ronald Reagan famously insisted that all issues be condensed into bullets on a single sheet of paper. One could argue that the most important characteristic of a national leader is the ability to articulate and press a vision for the country, a set of definitions and character sketches that we could live into in order to be a better place and people. George HW Bush did this with his "thousand points of light," which went off the charts in focus groups and cemented his first presidential bid. Palin? She cannot name a single newpaper, magazine or book that she has read into order to inform her decisions. Are you kidding? My 12-year-old reads enough to form ideas and thoughts (and best of all, questions) about what's going on in the world.

Third, it would be one thing if Sarah Palin were some sort of poster child for the hard right or for the social conservatives who have apparently felt mistreated and left out by the McCain candidacy so far. But lately, Palin appearances have been poorly-conceived opportunities to sling mud at Obama, mud that is much closer to hand as she sinks into the swamp the McCain campaign has become. OK, that's the hallmark of a failing campaign; with 20 days to go, sling everything you can, hope some of it sticks, and if you carry the day, then refer back to all that as the kind of toughness a leader needs to show. Only problem is: no one's buying it. The only people who seem to respond to this are the people that were already energized by the Palin candidacy. The biggest outcome so far of the lurch into negativity seems to be the freedom that Palin's performances bestow on those bent on hate. Increasingly, as Palin trots out the slender or debunked Obama myths, she plays on the fears of those increasingly paranoid crowds, tacitly approving their cries of "Treason" and "Traitor" when she tries to muddy Obama. As these rallies get uglier, with folks yelling "Kill Him!" Sarah Palin's tacit approval of this anger leaves puts her on the wrong side of history by showing us the worst side of ourselves.

Plucky? No, just grotesque.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

No wonder we're in such a mess, pt 2

OK, is it just me?

AIG "high producers" spent $400,000 on a California junket, reports the Washington Post. The Post and other sources around the web report that the guy who came up with the complex derivatives at AIG, Joseph Cassano, has been rehired as a consultant at one million dollars per month.

A million a month.

If you worked for 20 years at $50,000 per year, your career salary would be equal to one month of Joseph Cassano's income. Wow, he must be incredible. Lunch Ryan reports that Cassano's income at AIG from 2000 until his firing in Feb 2008 totaled $280 million. Such a productive employee -- why would he be fired? Hmmm, apparently he lost 11 billion dollars by the time he went out the door.

So could someone please remind me why exactly we are funding a $700b bailout, and for whom? My simple mind understands that $700b represents $2000 for every woman, man and child in the United states. Much, much more will likely fall on my family because we have two working parents paying income tax. So why am I funding a million a month for Joseph Cassano, and $400,000-plus for AIG executive holidays?

What a mess.

No wonder we're in such a mess, pt 1

This morning, while eating my Raisin Bran and scanning the front page of the Washington Post, I encountered an article titled "Make or Break Holiday Season Looms Large". Above the fold, in the third paragraph, someone named Bob Carbonell, chief credit officer for Bernard Sands, a retail rating and credit services agency, said:

"If the American housewife puts the money under the mattress, we're in deep trouble."

Are you kidding -- who ARE these people? This quote is offensive in so many ways, it's difficult to get them all down.

First, what is a housewife? Who uses a term like that in 2008? I know many women who do not work for pay outside the home, but few would qualify for -- and virtually all would object to -- this particular moniker. By the way, the thrust of this statement assumes that there are millions upon millions of such persons. For many families, of course, there is no option; if you're going to make the mortgage, keep the kids fed and dressed, and maybe get to the beach for a week this summer, you're going to need two incomes.

Second, the statement implies that the housewife controls the pursestrings (presumably while hubby is hunting and gathering, and just before popping in the cookies for Junior's return from school), that discretionary spending is something for housewives, and that spouses do not or should not have meaningful discussions about how much to spend and on what.

Third, Bob Carbonell strongly implies that if left to her own devices, the garden-variety housewife might just do something ditzy like stuff it all under the mattress (probably while making the bed). The American housewife clearly must not be intelligent enough to make her own decisions about the best use of her money. What is she thinking? Obviously a trip to the mall -- pillowcase in hand -- is exactly what's needed.

Finally, there's a strong sense that saving is bad, spending is good, and spending that you can't afford now but can perhaps afford in the future is even better. Bob Carbonell is a credit officer of some sort for a company I've never heard of, but I'm willing to bet that a good part of his livelihood comes from people living on credit. No wonder we're in such a mess.