Sunday, February 24, 2008


You might think that today my mind would be on the two Democrats who debated Thursday night in Texas -- the two who have fought tooth and nail for more than a year, raising record sums of money, and bringing out record hordes to the polls. I have trouble believing that the survivor of that debate, the one who didn’t have to resort to desperate measures and pathetic little slogans (“Change you can Xerox”), won’t ultimately be elected our next President. And yet I can’t say that the big story of the week involved him, or his rapidly unraveling primary opponent. The story of the week involved another unraveling opponent of Barack Obama. I’m referring to the editors of the New York Times.

I am a daily subscriber to the Times, and I still consider it America’s finest newspaper. I feel that way notwithstanding its support for the Iraq War and its recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Though those positions saddened me, I can’t exactly say they embarrassed the newspaper. But the hatchet job that the paper attempted this week against John McCain was an embarrassment. I doubt it will hurt McCain. The only victim here is the Times itself.

Picture yourself as a statesman who is married but whose job involves meeting lots and lots of people, many of whom are attractive, single women. Then imagine that you legitimately come to like one of those women, enough to want to get together with her socially – maybe have dinner at nice restaurants. You never sleep with her, you never even kiss her, but your staff gets nervous about the fact that you go out alone with her. And a couple of members of that staff, without being willing to identify themselves for the record, tell a newspaper many years later that they suspect you had an affair. You’re asked about the so-called “affair” and you deny it, as does your friend, which only makes sense, since your relationship with her was strictly Platonic.

Does that sound newsworthy? Does that sound worthy of a newspaper story insinuating that the statesman has had extra-marital, sexual relations with a lobbyist for whose clients he then does extraordinary political favors? It may be that the politician did go too far in helping his friend’s clients … but how does that prove that the statesman and his friend actually slept together? The New York Times provided no evidence that John McCain’s 1999 relationship with Vicki Iseman was any different than what was described in the previous paragraph – and yet the paper saw fit to suggest that the two had a “romantic relationship.” No physical evidence was gathered to support such an allegation, no evidence of the two sharing the same hotel room, no witnesses who identified themselves as knowing about this relationship … and not even anonymous witnesses who claimed to have definitive knowledge that McCain and Iseman were physically involved with one another. Still, our nation’s pre-eminent newspaper thought it was appropriate to print the story. If it weren’t so pathetic, it might even be funny.

What in the name of Oliver Cromwell is going on? Have we reached the point where we not only condemn extra-marital sex, but we condemn any kind of close friendship between a married man and a younger, single woman? From what I can tell, the New York Times has gathered evidence that McCain had such a friendship with a lobbyist. From comparing pictures of Iseman and McCain’s wife, I would even be willing to infer that McCain thought Iseman was physically attractive. This is news? This is worthy of sexual innuendos? You might think that the Times ran this story to ruin McCain’s chances, but you’d be wrong. It actually held the story for many weeks until McCain had sewn up his party’s nomination. Apparently, the story wasn’t so much politically motivated as it was motivated by the desire to share with the public a genuinely newsworthy set of facts (and innuendo). That’s what I find so shocking. The editors of the Times really think we should want to know about who may be screwing whom in Washington. It almost makes you want to move to Sweden, doesn’t it?

“Well, OK,” the Times’ editors might want to say now, in the aftermath of the firestorm that their story has created. “Maybe we shouldn’t have played up the whole possible-sex angle. Maybe we should have stuck with the idea that back in 1999, John McCain – Mr. “I’ll take on the lobbyists” – took extraordinary measures to help out the client of a lobbyist with whom he was close friends. That’s newsworthy, isn’t it?”'

Sure it is. I would have had no problem with the Times printing such an article, and in hindsight, the Times’ editors probably wish they had printed that one instead. But the real question is that, even had the Times ignored the possibility of a sexual relationship and demonstrated with undeniable evidence that back in 1999 McCain allowed a personal friendship to cloud his judgment on behalf of a lobbyist’s client, what should the significance be of Mr. McCain’s misconduct? Should it effectively disqualify him from the White House? Should we start looking at the man not as a hero, but rather as a sleaze? My answer is “No, no, 1000 times no!”

I’m a Democrat, a liberal Democrat, and a person who is scared by John McCain’s vision of an endless war in Iraq and sickened by his calls to make permanent tax cuts for the rich. But I also deeply appreciate his service as a soldier and former POW, his maverick stances on such issues as campaign finance reform and immigration reform, and his truly independent spirit. I believe him when he says that he wants to clean up Washington. And those views would hardly change if I were informed that he used bad judgment on one or two occasions in the past.

Happily, from what I can tell, virtually everyone I know – Democrat as well as Republican -- agrees with me that the McCain story, whether it be about extra-marital sex or giving inappropriate favors to lobbyists is just not that big a deal. And that reflects what might be the general mood of this election season. In Barack Obama and John McCain, we have a couple of politicians who are quite obviously so fundamentally decent that we Americans might actually be willing to cut them some slack. I support investigative reporters seeking out the stories about those mistakes and reporting them, but I would be willing to stipulate that all politicians have done a few things they wish they hadn’t, and I’m sick and tired of thinking of them as scumbags simply because they haven’t been moral exemplars every day of their adult lives.

McCain isn’t the only one getting the benefit of a few doubts. Just as the public is ignoring his alleged peccadilloes, so too is the Democratic electorate ignoring Hillary Clinton’s last ditch efforts to badmouth Obama. One minute he’s supposedly “plagiarizing,” the next minute he’s said to have authorized statements about her health care program that he “knows” to be false. “J’accuse!” says Hillary. “Wake me up when you stop acting like a desperate loser,” is the near-universal response.

It is no exaggeration to say that we find ourselves at a crossroads as a nation in terms of our political discourse. We can either remain in the era of Willie Horton and Whitewater, of Swiftboating and scandal, of incessant ridicule, of strawmen, and of slime. Or, we can treat our political candidates like they are presumed to be honorable, and look to see which one, if treated with respect by both political parties, could actually deliver the best changes for America. My preference for the latter is based on a political philosophy that embraces the public sector (within limits) and looks for it to make a substantial impact on our world. There are those who would instead prefer gridlock – “the government that governs best, governs least,” they say. I only wish they would be honest about their preference and not underhanded. Don’t rip into good men like Barack Obama and John McCain, just stick with the merits. Say that you oppose steps to fight global warming. Say that you oppose steps to make health care more universal. Say that you’d just as soon leave nearly all the national wealth in the hands of the top 5% of the population. Then, at least, we can have a national debate on the issues, and the New York Times can read like the New York Times … and not the National Enquirer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Here's my recommendation for all the hard-heads out there who want to figure out for yourself why, barring a miracle, it's Young versus Old in November.

Google "Real Clear Politics." Click on to the "Pledged Delegates" count. And just let your eyes run wild. You'll see today even more clearly what I saw last week, after my beloved "Potomac Primary": the only way for Hillary to win this is to steal it. There just isn't enough pledged delegates left for her to make up the roughly 160 deficit that she now faces.

OK. Mathematically, she can obviously still win. If it were disclosed tomorrow that Obama is the "Manchurian Candidate," sent by the Chinese to mess with the good ol' US of A, Clinton would win all remaining delegates, and she'd defeat Obama in a walk. But I'm not talking theory, I'm talking reality. Consider the states that Obama has left on the calendar: North Carolina (huge African-American population in the primary), Mississippi (dominant African-American population), Wyoming (caucus, if I recall correctly), Oregon (Pacific Northwest? Hillary?), and Vermont (a little touch of the Pacific Northwest ... in the East). I see those as a win, a big win, a win, a win, and a win. And it's not like I see a single slam dunk left on Hillary's schedule.

This "firewall" of Texas and Ohio on March 4th is setting up as a dogfight. She might win them, but how many delegates could they net her -- 10? 20? 30? 50? She'd still be down by triple digits, and then she'd get hammered in Miss and WY.

'Taint happenin' for her absent something truly bizarre.

By the way, speaking of doing the math, Rasmussen came out with a new poll on the Oregon Senate race. The incumbent Republican Gordon Smith remains ahead, but only by 13 percent ... and the Democrat that does the best against him is none other than "the next Paul Wellstone," Steve Novick. Novick's "positives" are a few points higher than his primary opponent, Jeff Merkley, and his "negatives" are a few points lower than Merkley. Plus, Smith beats Merkley by 18%, five points worse than Novick. It seems that Novick has become a bit of a rock star from his amazing advertisements, which are major favorites on You Tube.

The Oregon primary is coming up in May. Hopefully, it will be a non-event on the Presidential side and we can all focus exclusively on Democratic nomination for Senate. I suspect that with Barack at the top of the ticket, whichever Democratic candidate faces Smith will have some pretty serious coattails to ride.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


You may remember from an earlier post that a couple of months ago, the Board at my synagogue decided against renewing the contract of our cantor and associate rabbi. That has sent me and some others looking for a new community. I found some synagogues that my family liked well enough, but none of them compare to the idea of starting our own community with the "dispossessed Jews" from our previous synagogue. We had our first meeting last night, and it was great.

What follows is a vision statement that I drafted for the new group, which we are now referring to alternatively as a Chavurah (literally, a "group of friends") or a Shul Without Walls. I thought you all might find this interesting -- maybe as an antidote to the authoritarian, chauvanistic, and dogmatic vision that has come to be associated with organized religion. I was also hoping that you might know people who live in D.C. or its Maryland suburbs and who might be interested in finding out more about this group and ultimately joining us (we can't succeed long term unless we broaden our base). If you do, have them e-mail me at


Principle 1 – The Primacy of Values in Forging a Community Identity

The Chavurah should associate itself above all else with certain values. The values form the bedrock of our community, and ground our interpersonal relationships within the community as well as our own individual searches for enlightenment and happiness. With the passage of time, it is hoped that we will manifest these values so strikingly that visitors will be struck by our commitment to them. The identity of those values we wish to emphasize is important, but no more important than the fact that we deeply commit ourselves to whichever values we choose.

Principle 2 – Independence from the Various Jewish Denominations

The Chavurah should not identify itself with one Jewish denomination as opposed to others. It is enough of a concession to organized religion that we proudly adopt the name “Jewish” to refer to our community. Let us not go further and associate ourselves with a particular brand of Judaism, lest we lose the ability to pick and choose from among the best features of all Jewish denominations.

Principle 3 – Faith in Democracy as our Preferred Form of Community Governance

This Chavurah owes its existence to a decision on the part of a local synagogue to treat some members as more equal than others. In this Chavurah, decisions of fundamental importance to the community shall be made by the entire community, as manifested in the will of its majority. We shall have faith in the principle, set forth by Spinoza, that “it is almost impossible that the majority of a people, especially if it be a large one, should agree in an irrational design.”

Principle 4 – The Pursuit of Truth is More Important than Its Possession

In the past, spiritual communities have become irreligious when they become too deferential to those in their midst who are the most knowledgeable about Scripture or other revered texts. This has led a small number of voices to dominate the communities. This Chavurah, however, subscribes to the view that the love of the search for wisdom is far more important than the possession of knowledge. In the immortal words of Gotthold Lessing, “The true value of a man is not determined by his possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by his sincere exertion to get to the Truth. … If God were to hold all Truth concealed in his right hand, and in his left only the steady and diligent drive for Truth … I would with all humility take the left hand.”

Principle 5 -- Maintaining an Ecumenical, and not a Chauvinistic, Spirit

The Lessing quotation in the last paragraph illustrates our willingness to honor the wisdom of Gentiles, as well as Jews. While we associate ourselves with the faith tradition known as Judaism, this does not mean that we wish to proclaim Jewish superiority, ignore the best that the non-Jewish world has to offer, or somehow view ourselves as part of an exclusive “club.” Our approach to Judaism is ecumenical, universalistic, and respectful. We are as open to Gentiles as we would want Gentiles to be open to us. While we recognize that historically Jewish paranoia has often been well founded, living as we do in 21st century America we wish to put aside any vestiges of racial paranoia and embrace the diversity in our midst. Never in our community will a dues-paying gentile be treated as a second-class citizen when it comes to the governance of the Chavurah.

Principle 6 – Becoming a Community that Wrestles with God

Today, “Israel” is typically associated with a particular piece of land in the Middle East, but the word originated instead with Jacob, the Patriarch. Jacob became “Israel” when he wrestled deep into the night with an angel of God. Consistent with the spirit of our Patriarch, we must embrace the idea that to be a man and woman of Israel is to be a God-wrestler – a passionate intellectual who struggles with the meaning and relevance of divinity.

Living as we do at a time after Darwin and Hitler, we cannot help but notice the high fraction of Jews today who have lost any semblance of faith in God. We do not mandate such faith for the members of our community; indeed, mandating faith is antithetical to the notion of God-wrestling. But nor do we wash our hands of the whole topic. We encourage each other to look for conceptions of God, even non-traditional ones, which hold meaning for ourselves as individuals. We also encourage discussions of these conceptions to enable us to wrestle with God as a community, and not merely as individuals.

Principle 7 – The Wisdom of the Three Torahs

This Chavurah emerged from a large synagogue whose sanctuary had three Torahs. One bore the name “Truth,” the second “Justice,” and the third “Peace.” We can think of few more important words than these. As referenced above, we wish to devote ourselves to the pursuit of truth wherever it leads, and to create an open, inquiring atmosphere conducive to that pursuit. We also wish to associate ourselves with those who view fighting for justice not as something to read or pine about, but as an activity in which we ourselves must participate whenever the opportunity arises. As for “peace,” this is perhaps the most important goal of the three. Without it, our antenna for truth will be compromised and our search for justice will remain elusive. We wish to work for peace within our community, the people of Israel, the United States of America, and perhaps above all else, within our world.

Principle 8 – The Centrality of Tikkun Olam

Our community must become a place for serious Jewish learning; in other words, as it is said in the Torah, we must become “a people of priests.” Still, this cannot be our highest goal. To paraphrase Marx, it is one thing to interpret the world, but something still greater to change it. Marx was merely echoing the Talmudic statement of Rabbi Elazar, who compared a person whose wisdom exceeds his deeds to a “tree that has many branches and few roots, so that when the wind comes, it plucks it up and turns it over.”

We wish to be a community of dynamic, courageous change agents who dare to look at the world beyond the prisms of cynicism and self-interest. Devoted as we are to “tikkun olam” – the Kabbalistic notion of repairing or perfecting the world – we hope that our community can become a springboard for community activism, just as much if not more than private prayer or intellectual learning.

Principle 9 – The Centrality of the Shabbat Service

We do not believe in compelling or coercing attendance at our group functions, for religious activities should be a joy, and not a chore. Nevertheless, we lament the fact that for a high percentage of Jews today, attendance at worship services have become a two or three day a year proposition. We wish to create a community in which a significant fraction of the members choose to attend Shabbat Services at least once or twice a month. These are the services in which we remind ourselves that we are a truly connected community, and not merely an aggregate of atomized families. These are also the services in which we demonstrate the importance of Judaism as a focal point of communal worship.

As Jews, we have many opportunities to involve ourselves in tikkun olam activities. We could find such opportunities through our jobs, by attending political rallies, or by volunteering with community organizations. Similarly, we have a variety of communal opportunities to broaden and deepen our wisdom about Judaism. We can attend classes at local universities or at Jewish study centers, or attend book talks whenever Jewish writers visit stores like Politics and Prose. By contrast, holidays aside, there is only a single forum available to us to pray communally with other Jews, and that is during Shabbat Services. It is difficult to imagine a holier task than somehow turning our Shabbat Service into the most spiritual and inviting environment possible for members of our community and their guests. We want visitors to leave our services impressed with both the depth of our prayer and the breath of our participation in prayerful activities.

Principle 10 – Embracing Diversity

One of the best features of the community that spawned this Chavurah was its diversity. We wish to continue in that same vein. We shall accept diversity in all its forms, including but hardly limited to ideological diversity. People who have the courage to challenge conventional wisdom should be applauded, not mocked.

Principle 11 – Affirming Patrilineal and Matrilineal Descent

We believe that all children with either a Jewish father or Jewish mother can properly call themselves Jewish by opting to associate themselves with the Jewish people. The principle of matrilineal-only descent is an antiquated vestige of a by-gone era. Just as we no longer sacrifice animals simply because our ancestors did it, nor are we willing to sacrifice the identities of legions of Jewish people – many of whom have been Bar or Bat Mitzvahed – simply because their Gentile parent happens to be a woman. This is inherently sexist, not to mention insensitive to those whose Jewish identities are being denied. Insensitivity is not one of our core values.

Principle 12 – Balancing Familiarity and Experimentation

Regarding the type of rituals we practice at our services, we do not see the need to choose between affirming the values of experimentation and familiarity. Stated simply, spiritual communities need to do both. We need to embrace liturgy that is said with sufficient regularity that members of the community may feel at home. But if we only embrace such liturgy, we will not allow ourselves to grow adequately as Jews. This isn’t an either-or proposition. This is an area that calls for balance.

Principle 13 – Creating a Community Marked by Warmth

We have affirmed many values in the above discussion, but we have saved perhaps the most important for Principle 13. We wish to be known as a community marked by warmth – both to fellow members of the community and to those outside of it. We have heard this word misused before to refer to the expression of polite pleasantries. But that does not begin to convey our meaning.

The warmth we require of our members is actually quite challenging, and “Hi, good to meet you,” doesn’t exactly do it justice. We must be open about who we are. We must be empathic. And above all else, we must treat all people with honor.


For those of us who come from a Reform Jewish background, it is difficult to avoid seeing the Shabbat Service as one that is led by a rabbi. Even now that we are forming a new Chavurah, we recognize the value to a Jewish service of listening to rabbis inspire us by applying the fruits of their scholarship in provocative and profound ways.

Still, it is one thing for rabbis to deliver d’var Torahs and other sermons. It is something else for them to punctuate a service simply by reading from prayer books. To be blunt, the latter simply invades the province of a cantor. When a rabbi enunciates the words from a prayer book, it sounds like someone is reading; when a trained cantor enunciates the same words, it sounds like someone is praying. Accordingly, when rabbis are not gracing us with the fruits of their unique wisdom and knowledge, they should step back and allow cantors to create a prayerful mood.

To the extent that our services are generally led by the chanting and singing of cantors, the membership at large will become more familiar with that chanting and singing and come to participate more and more in the music of the service. If, on the other hand, the cantor is given only one or two opportunities to lead the community in prayer, the membership will inevitably quiet down and listen to the “performance” in their midst.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


How sweet it is to see Maryland, Virginia and D.C. overwhelmingly go for Obama ... and against cynicism. This isn't just any region of the country. This is the region where we take politics REALLY, REALLY seriously. Despite the best efforts of his opponent to portray Barack as a neophyte who is far from ready, we politically junkies seem to be more than ready for Barack.

I spoke to a Clinton delegate this evening from Washington State and he seemed reconciled to an Obama victory. The betting markets now have Barack as a 7:3 favorite.

I'm beginning to smell an upset. In fact, I'm getting a big whiff of one. Unless something happens to change the momentum soon, I just can't see the superdelegates telling all the young people who have given Barack his majority to shove their enthusiasm up their ass. Forgive my French, but that's how it would be interpreted if the superdelegates steal the election for Hillary.

Remember that Barack hasn't simply won eight primaries/caucuses in a row. He's winning them by a range of 20 to 50 points. These are blowouts. And they're happening in the Caribbean, the Deep South, the Mid Atlantic, the Northeast, the Midwest, and the Far West. Barack has now won the District of Columbia, all the territories that have voted, and more than two/thirds of the states that have voted. I'm beginning to detect a trend here. Maybe, just maybe, we can have a family in the White House other than the Bushes and the Clintons.

Friday, February 08, 2008


This week our nation’s eyes turn to the Chesapeake/Potomac region – an area that has given us many of our founding fathers (including Washington, Jefferson and Madison), our national anthem (courtesy of Francis Scott Key), our greatest baseball player (Babe Ruth), and a legendary mayor who has immortalized the words “The bitch set me up” (his honor, Marion Barry). On February 6th, the first day of the buildup to the “Chesapeake Primary,” the temperature in D.C. hit 70 degrees. It felt like spring. And I’m not just talking about the weather.

Never in my lifetime do I recall a Maryland primary mattering as much as the upcoming event on February 12th. We’ll be voting, together with our neighbors from D.C. and Virginia, at a time when the Democratic nomination remains up for grabs. It appears that Obama is favored to prevail in the Chesapeake region, but Hillary has a significant lead in upcoming contests in Texas and Ohio. Her backers have to be absolutely giddy today that she dodged a Super Tuesday bullet. They were hearing about Obama taking a 13 point lead in California in Zogby’s last pre-primary poll. Somehow, once again, the pollsters wildly underestimated her strength. And now, armed with an advantage in super-delegates, she has to be viewed as the front runner, despite the media’s attempts to portray the race as 50/50.

So yes, to the Clintonites, February 6th felt like spring. As long as nothing strange happens from here on out, they can smell the scent of victory. The party apparatchiks should put her over the top even if “the people” should favor Obama ever so slightly. Besides, when it comes to big-state primaries, we all know now that she has a big advantage. Thousands upon thousands of poorly educated voters who probably haven’t been living and breathing this election, let alone shaken the hand of The Rock Star, will walk into the ballot box and see a name they have loved for years (Clinton) and another that they associate with an unproven upstart. They’ll vote “the brand,” and that – combined with the super-delegates -- should be enough for her to get the nomination.

That at least was my honest-to-God thinking on the morning after Super Tuesday. The betting markets don’t agree with me – they had Hillary going from a 52/48 pre-Super Tuesday favorite to a 46/54 underdog the next day – but I still see her as the candidate to beat. And yet … even though I’m an Obamamaniac, and even though I was disappointed by the results of the big day, the 6th felt like spring to me too. It reminded me of Aprils past, back when I was a teenager and had been infatuated with a girl, only to get my heart broken.

I know what you’re thinking – that Obama is like those “girls” with whom I was infatuated and who broke my heart. But that would be missing my point. In this case, the “girl” is the notion of an America with an inspiring leader devoted to making real changes in Washington, and the heartbreaker was the American public; in particular, those who would style themselves moderate or progressive. I know that they include the majority of the electorate, and yet time and time again, I find myself distraught at their choice of candidates. Walking around on the 6th in 70 degree weather, I couldn’t bear the thought of it.

I started reflecting on my teenage years, after one of my girlfriends would give me my walking papers. Some of my buddies would see how depressed I was and would tell me that it just doesn’t pay to get so infatuated with a girl. Spinoza himself would surely agree – that kind of passion inevitably leads to frustration, he would argue. And yet I knew full well that a teenager’s passion for romance is, in fact, the epitome of health, despite all the pain it engenders. It’s that passion that sharpens our appreciation for beauty, inside and out. Similarly, the passion for real political change is the epitome of health in an adult. If we don’t want the societal change that we desperately need with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might, we can be damned well sure we’re not going to get it.

The thought of an Obama loss in the polls was indeed depressing to me … until the next morning, when, for the first time, I watched the speech he gave at the end of the night on Super Tuesday. That speech convinced me that, regardless of the outcome in November 2008, Obama is founding a movement that will inevitably succeed. For those who don’t get the Obama candidacy, I’m sure his Super Tuesday speech came across as full of soaring rhetoric, but signifying nothing. I can imagine Clinton’s supporters shaking their head at the “vacuity” of lines like “Change will not come if we wait for some other person. Or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

Vacuous? Only if you’re part of the old Democratic Party. A party that equates cynicism with wisdom. A party that equates fear with prudence. A party that wouldn’t dare try to implement bold progressive initiatives, lest they be defeated, resulting in the dreaded conservative “backlash.” A party that is so stupid that it could actually ignore the second coming of Paul Wellstone in the name of Steve Novick (Happy Birthday, Steve!) … and support instead his yawner of an opponent.

Hillary Clinton fits the old Democratic Party perfectly. She’s always been afraid to take courageous stands on any issue. She always seems to stick her finger in the wind and follow its lead – whether that means supporting a law on flag burning or supporting Bush’s right to invade Iraq. If you listen to one of her stump speeches, the theme is always the same: “Trust me. I’ve studied up on the topic. And I’ve got a plan that will work!”

Hillary reminds me of Squire Trelaine, the Star Trek character whose source of power was based in his large living room mirror. With Hillary Clinton it’s always about “I.” With Barack Obama, it’s about “We.” She’s the self-styled expert. She’s paid her dues, worked hard, and now, not surprisingly, she knows best. Barack? He doesn’t know nearly as much as she does. But he knew enough to oppose the Iraq War, didn’t he? And he knows something else: that it doesn’t matter how many briefing books our leaders read, if the rank and file of the progressive community isn’t energized, we can kiss off the chance of driving the national agenda.

Politicians need community activists every bit as much as the activists need politicians. If the work doesn’t get done from the ground up, we’ll be left with Hillary Clinton’s original health care proposal and John McCain’s immigration bill. In other words, we’ll be left with bupkis.

Why do I believe Barack is right that we need to see this as a movement primarily about us, and not about him? Because I’ve seen what it’s like to go to peace marches, protesting one of the most idiotic wars in modern history, only to encounter small crowd after small crowd. I would try to invite my friends, and they were busy. Then, when I tried to get a group together from my “progressive” synagogue, I would be rebuffed, because pro-Palestinian elements were among the march’s planners. I look back at the 60s, when hundreds of thousands of people could show up for a march, and then I think about what it’s like today, when Democrats are too damn busy with our own lives to worry about other people losing theirs.

Obama and I pine for the day when we Democrats will enjoy the kind of renaissance that the Republicans enjoyed with Reagan. Republicans were optimistic. They were bold enough to dream big dreams. They got together in spiritual communities and spoke about social change. They took to the airwaves spreading their ideas. They realized how easy it is to influence Congress with orchestrated letter writing campaigns. And above all else, they realized the benefits of unity.

Sure their ideas were reactionary. But at least they had faith in ideas. And armed with that faith, they changed this country and this world.

That’s all I ask – to have our own day in the sun. It doesn’t even have to be 70 degrees. But we do have to be together. You. Me. Barack. And all the other politicians and non-politicians who are willing to get their hearts broken over and over again if that’s what it takes to change the world in a progressive direction.

Keep the faith.

Monday, February 04, 2008


If the Clintons are successful in returning to the White House and then getting re-elected, we'll be looking at 28 straight years with a Bush or a Clinton as President.

Does that sound like a vibrant democracy to you? Have the guts to try something new.

Vote Obama.

Friday, February 01, 2008


I certainly hope that everyone reading this had a chance to watch both the GOP and Democratic debates these past two evenings. You want to talk about a study in contrasts. On January 30th, Mitt Romney and John McCain illustrated that ol’ cliché from the world of sports: “They flat out just don’t like each others.” I say those words and I’m picturing Keith Jackson announcing an Ohio State-Michigan game, or Bud Collins talking about Connors-McEnroe. I often wondered if that was just hype, in the sports context, but it was obviously quite genuine in the case of the two leading Republicans. In answer after answer, we saw antipathy, sarcasm, and sometimes, downright meanness. They came across less like men than middle schoolers. In fact, McCain looked especially silly and spiteful. Perhaps it’s partly because of his age (septuagenarians don’t look dignified when they say the equivalent of “nanna nanna boo boo”), but I think it’s more than that. He, like the other GOP candidates this year, truly seem to resent Romney for being born with a silver spoon.

Remember, McCain is Mr. Campaign Finance Reform, but Romney has the one type of money that isn’t regulated by the campaign finance laws: his own! It was incredible watching McCain tell a group of Republicans that, unlike Romney, his own background included working for “patriotism, not profit.” Where did that come from? Karl Marx? Since when is it problematic for a guy who has devoted many years of his life to public service to also have spent years running businesses? The last I checked, that would make Romney the ideal Republican candidate, and yet McCain saw fit to mock him for having private sector experience.

That was resentment on display, folks. Pure, unadulterated resentment. And the result was pure, unadulterated immaturity. I almost expected McCain to say: “Oh yeah? Well … your momma wears Army boots!” It was that kind of evening.

That was Wednesday night. Thursday’s event was altogether different. There, for the first time, we could see the two “historic” candidates alone during a debate. One is vying to be the first Presidential nominee who is non-white, the other to be the first who is non-male. I was actually nervous before the debate and had no idea what to expect. As it turned out, we were treated to a love fest. It was almost like watching a happy married couple – sure, they highlighted their differences, but they also couldn’t wait to point out how small those differences were compared to their common ground. Because of all the civility, you actually were able to better take note of what they stood for. And the result was obvious: on the issues themselves, their positions are pretty damned similar … and extremely different from those of their opponents, John McHatfield and Mitt McCoy.

(Of course, that’s not surprising, since all political candidates tend to espouse the positions taken by the mainstream of their parties, and the Donkeys and Elephants still have plenty of substantive differences on policy.)

The tempting question to ask, when one watches a debate, is “Who’s winning?” In fact, part of the beauty of last night’s debate is that it transcended that rather shallow question. If there was a winner last night, it was whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee in the fall. Both candidates seemed to erase some of the concerns people have had about them.

In the case of Obama, he showed his substance on the issues better than he’s ever done before. He showed that he can stand toe to toe with Madame Policy Wonk for 90 minutes and at least hold his own. I say “at least,” because on the one issue where there was most clearly a winner (Iraq), he won big. It’s awfully hard for Hillary to defend her vote on the Levin Amendment, and she sure couldn’t do it last night.

In the case of Hillary, she showed how likeable she can be (when she wants to be). And lest you be cynical about this, remember that this is a woman who has worked very well with Republican senators ever since she came to Capitol Hill. Make no mistake, Hillary has been a very effective senator, and she showed last night how she can use some of those same diplomatic skills if she were elected President.

The next few days will be very interesting on the Democratic side because of what might happen, but probably will not. There are two extremely important Democrats yet to be heard from in the endorsement mix. We’re talking Gore and Edwards. This race is so close that if either candidate garners one of their endorsements and the other is shut out, that might tip the scales. But at this point, I’m beginning to worry that neither Gore nor Edwards will step up to the plate, which I think is sad. Courage is a virtue in very short supply in the politics of the Democratic Party. When in doubt, bet against it.

Stated another way, the reason why Ted Kennedy, the one Democratic giant who has made an endorsement so far, is called a “liberal lion” is because he is the one consistently progressive statesman who actually has a backbone. Now please, ladies and gentlemen, name for me one more man or woman worthy of the term “liberal lion” who is prominent in politics today. Just one.

Yeah, I can’t do it either.

But I can name a “moderate lion.” And his name is John McCain. Perhaps the single most significant thing that is happening this month in politics has nothing to do with the Democrats, even though my party is trouncing its opponents in terms of the number of voters showing up at the polls. Ever since 1980, conservatives have dominated GOP politics. Between the still-fresh memories of the Reagan Revolution and the rise of right wing talk radio, GOP moderates have been as quiet as church mice. Well, folks, in John McCain, you don’t so much have a GOP moderate as a GOP maverick. This dude actually voted against the Bush tax cuts in part because they involved economic redistribution in favor of the rich. That is as close as it comes to sacrilege in the Republican Party. And that is but one of a number of solidly liberal positions that McCain has taken in recent years.

Just as every Republican’s favorite Democratic candidate is rapidly becoming Barack Obama (who at least treats them with respect), every Democrat’s favorite GOP candidate has for a long time been John McCain. Sure, he’s a war monger. But he’s got the courage of his convictions, and those convictions swing to the left nearly as often as they swing to the right. That’s why Rush hates McCain. That’s why the GOP base might stay home if he’s nominated, just as progressives like me have pledged to stay home if Hillary is nominated.

I still don’t believe I can vote for Hillary in November, but I have to admit – last night made me at least question myself on that score. Certainly, she appeared infinitely preferable last night to McCain two nights ago. But I’m going to disregard his little spat against Romney and reflect, for a moment, on how far we’ve come as a country in the past month. Right now, we have two articulate, bright and knowledgeable Democrats who are pledging (sort of) to usher in universal health care, stop the war in Iraq, address global warming, and tackle poverty. And just as importantly, we have a Republican front runner who has a history of opposing some right wing initiatives and supporting some progressive ones. Finally, in the party that is currently dominant in the polls, we have an increasing sense that the tone of the campaign just might become civil and substantive. It’s all beginning to make me wonder if maybe, just maybe, we can have a campaign in November that we can all be proud of, ushering in a new administration that is actually poised to make some real progress and defeat the forces of gridlock.

One can always hope, right?

I want to leave you with an image from the last month. It comes from New Year’s Day. I happened to turn on the TV around the middle of the afternoon that day, and instead of watching football, I tuned in a hockey game. Ever since the North Stars left Minnesota, I haven’t been a huge National Hockey League fan, but this game was must see TV. It was played in outdoors in the snow in Buffalo. And it was watched by 60 or 70,000 people, all of whom sat on their freezing tushes and screamed. The home team lost, but the game was close, and really, the stars weren’t the players but the fans -- for showing up in freezing weather, sitting on their butts for hours, and expressing their love for sport amidst beautiful snow showers.

I felt proud to be a sports fanatic that afternoon. But more than that, I asked myself if someday, and I mean someday soon, millions upon millions of us could come to love politics and public policy half as much as we now love sports. With the current crop of candidates – and yes, especially with a candidate like Barack Obama – I could actually pose that question with a straight face.