Saturday, January 26, 2008


In my family, we’re all solidly for Obama, supposedly. But we do have one family member who appears to be waffling. She fits all the Hillary demographics. She’s not black. She’s not a man. And she’s not young. Boy is she not young.

I’m referring to my dear mother, who claims that she supports Obama, but I can’t be sure. She’s always been a big Hillary fan. And when she heard Barack debate with Hillary, she called him “too slick” -- an ironic choice of words, considering that for the last week, he’s been campaigning against Bill Clinton.

Lately, that’s what this election has been all about – Barack versus Bill. Have you noticed? The wife has receded to the background. She spent half of the past week outside of South Carolina, thereby downplaying the importance of the race there – and I mean the black race as well as the primary. The Democratic Party thought that it was important to have hard fought contests in four states. One in the south, one in the northeast, one in the west, and one in the Midwest. Only one of those states had a significant black population. And Hillary didn’t feel compelled to campaign for those votes. Intended or not, it sends quite the message. And the African-American voters of South Carolina heard that message loud and clear.

I can’t adequately explain why Hillary abandoned South Carolina and its black voters. But one possible explanation is that she didn’t think she was abandoning it at all. She may have thought by sending Bill, she doesn’t need to campaign. Hell, maybe if she’s elected, she could take two months off and just let Bill take over the White House. Why not? Constitution, Schmonstitution.

This past week, something in me snapped. I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but I know why it happened. It was caused by the Clintons’ claim that Barack Obama said that he liked the ideas of Ronald Reagan – meaning the right wing ideas of Ronald Reagan. That was it for me. Once the Clintons drummed in that point, I stopped thinking exclusively about Barack Obama (my dream candidate) and started looking at John McCain. I hate to say it, because I’m a nearly a yellow-dog Democrat, but the Clintons must be stopped. For the good of our political process, they must be stopped.

Make no mistake, my fellow Empathic Rationalists, I can devote an entire blog post to singing the praises of Hillary Clinton. Sincerely I could. And as for her hubby, I was an early member of his Saxophone Club. I love the fact that those two are true policy wonks. And I truly believe that deep down, they’re about as non-racist as any white family in America. Let me add that I have loathed the way they were hounded by the GOP talking heads from the moment Bill took office in 1992.

There are a lot of reasons to support Hillary Clinton. And, I’m sure, there are reasons to amend the Constitution and let Bill run for President again in 2016 once Hillary is finished (Bill will still be younger than McCain, I suspect). But folks … at some point, those reasons just don’t seem very compelling. Not when the Clintons are resorting to the deliberate distortion of their opponents’ statements in order to get elected.

I shouldn’t have to tell anyone who is reading this blog that Barack never endorsed the ideas of Ronald Reagan. But like I have done on numerous occasions in this portion of cyberspace, Barack did praise Reagan for having ideas. And I have gone even further in praising Reagan – I’ve toasted him for being true to his ideas rather than campaigning one way, and governing another.

That doesn’t mean he didn’t screw up the country in various ways. I don’t like his ideas and neither does Barack, but we should give the man his due just as we should give Hillary her due.

Hillary and her better half knew full well that Barack wasn’t endorsing Reagan’s right wing ideology or his record. Hillary herself praised Reagan in a recent conversation with Tom Brokaw. So how then can she justify attacking Barack for essentially saying the same thing she has? Because, for a certain type of politician, when you’re starting to lose, it’s time to resort to the big lie. They figured that shortly before the Nevada primary, they’d link Barack with Reagan and thereby cause voters with sub 100 IQs to vote for Hillary. Until tonight, that strategy actually seems to have worked.

I discussed those sorry events with my mother, and all she said was “All’s fair in love and politics.” I couldn’t tell whether she’s 100% serious or not. But this much I can tell – Hillary can count on her vote in November. Even though my mother recognizes Hillary’s relentlessly negative and sometimes dishonest campaigning style, she still doesn’t see that as reasons not to vote for a politician. Since no politicians can be trusted, my mother argues, we shouldn’t take honesty into account in evaluating their candidacy. Somehow, I don’t think my mom is alone in that assessment.

This is what our democracy has evolved into. It explains a lot about why this country gets the sorry leadership we get, and why we appear to be an empire on the decline. It’s precisely what Obama is trying to change, and Hillary and Bill will do everything it takes to stop him. They’ve turned into the Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly of Presidential politics. And that’s why I’ve started thinking to myself, “If Obama loses, is McCain really that bad?”

Tonight, we’ve heard from Barack Obama, who unlike Bill and Hill was actually in South Carolina. Barack gave a rousing speech, like he did in New Hampshire and Iowa, but this one had an edge to it. He’s been hardened by the battles of the last few weeks, that’s obvious. He’s been hardened by Bill’s reference to his story on Iraq as a “fairy tale.” Hardened by Bill’s comparing his candidacy to that of Jesse Jackson (how is that not playing the race card?). Hardened by Hillary’s accusation that he was building up false hopes in a country that has all but lost hope. And hardened by the idea that his opponents would intentionally misrepresent his record on Reagan. He realizes now that he’s fighting an uphill struggle. But he also realizes that he will surely win enough states to keep this thing going well past Super Tuesday. And he also must realize that whenever a primary election is completed, he gets to give a speech, and whenever he gives a speech, he demonstrates yet again that when it comes to oratory, we haven’t seen his equal in decades.

For the last two weeks, it has been two against one. That worked for the two in Nevada, and for the one in S. Carolina. But tonight, it’s two against two. I hadn’t mentioned that Obama has some new help. It comes from the pages of the New York Times, the same establishment-vehicle that recently endorsed Bill’s wife. Pick up your Sunday Times tomorrow and you’ll find a quite different endorsement. It comes from Carolyn Kennedy. And she states, explicitly, that finally, she has found a politician that reminds her of her father.

No kidding. You’d have to be toned deaf – or racist – not to see parallels between Obama and JFK, or for that matter, RFK or Martin Luther King. None of those inspiring figures lived longer than Obama. Strangely, though, they don’t have people around to mock their inexperience, compare their statements to “fairy tales,” or accuse them of raising false hopes. As a result, they are being defined for us by their own words and deeds, and most of us yearn for public figures just like them.

Well, folks, I believe we now have just such a person. Ignore him if you’d like, but Carolyn Kennedy knows greatness when she sees it.

If we Americans can see greatness in the eye, and opt instead for the same old politics of intentional distortions and fear … then we’re in one heap of trouble. Tonight, though, belongs to Obama and to his message of change. “Yes, we can,” chant his supporters. Yes, we can.” Until the proverbial Fat Lady sings, I’m going to remember that. Hillary might have a lot of support among the party apparatchiks in the Super Tuesday states, and Bill might have a lot of support among the masses of voters in those states, but Obama is running an incredibly inspired campaign, and I don’t see how anyone can deny that. Does that mean he’ll win? No. But it means, quite possibly, he can win. Yes, he can. Yes, we can.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


In my last post, I went on for page after page to sing the tributes of a legitimate heir to Martin Luther King, Jr. This week, however, is the time to put aside the disciples for a moment and consider The Man himself.

There are few more inspiring Americans in our nation’s history than MLK. I would put him right below Lincoln in the pantheon of beloved Americans. Not surprisingly, both men are primarily associated with the same cause: racial justice for African-Americans. The way we have treated black people is the most blatant blot on our history – and given the way we’ve treated Native Americans, that’s really saying something. In Lincoln’s day, it was commonly believed among American whites that black people weren’t even human. By the time MLK came of age, I’d like to think that our society had progressed beyond that primitive view … but it is equally clear that in places as diverse as Birmingham, Blacksburg, and Boston, white people overtly labeled blacks as genetically inferior, both intellectually and morally. Human, perhaps, but inferior just the same.

Thankfully, though, overt racism is now passé. More importantly, with the passing of each generation, even subconscious racism appears to be on the decline. You can’t attribute this welcome development to any one factor, but I think it’s safe to say that we owe the waning of modern American racism more to MLK than to any other person. It almost makes you sad that the visionary behind Mount Rushmore wasn’t born 100 years later. King’s image certainly deserved to be chiseled in that stone.

This weekend, those of us who have joined the 21st century can reflect on Martin Luther King, Jr. as proof positive that racism is bankrupt as an ideology. We can also consider the man as a wonderful symbol of non-violence – the Western Hemisphere’s answer to Gandhi, if you will. Finally, we can reflect on MLK as one of the last truly great orators – a salesman, par excellence, for the worthiest of goals. Those three elements are commonly regarded as his legacy. And if he stood for nothing else, that would be dayenu … that would be enough.

Fortunately, Dr. King’s legacy is even more pregnant with riches for those of us who are willing to look for them.

Think for a moment about Dr. King from an occupational standpoint. The dude wasn’t a doctor, lawyer, or businessman. He wasn’t a teacher. Nor was he an entertainer. And believe it or not, he wasn’t even a politician. He was a clergyman – a Christian clergyman.

It sounds crazy to think of him that way today. Christian clergymen don’t march down the streets for justice – or if they do, it’s justice for “people” who have yet to be born. Christian clergymen don’t spend days at a time in jail – or if they do, it’s because they’re visiting inmates, not serving as one.

Surely, there are as many inspired, passionate, and effective Christian clergymen today as there were back in the days when MLK preached. The problem, of course, is that today’s clergy tend to be forces of conservatism. These are the people responsible for the re-election of our President in 2004. These are the people responsible for convincing their “flock” that whether one woman is permitted legally to “marry” another is a more important issue than whether our country made the right choice in spending a trillion dollars and destroying thousands of lives in Iraq.

I can accept that there exists influential right-wing Christian clergy, just as there are right-wing Jewish and Islamic clergy. That’s as it should be. But here’s what I don’t understand: where are their progressive counterparts? Which movements are they leading? Which laws are they treating with civil disobedience? Where are they taking to the streets? How are they affecting the public discourse?

Just as the name of Jesus of Nazareth – an egalitarian, anti-establishment figure, if ever there was one -- has been usurped by the forces of status quo, so too has the name of Dr. King. Right wingers love him because they’ve always been afraid of uprisings by the “masses,” and he abhorred violence. Plus, they (correctly) appreciate activists who, while supporting blacks or women, steer clear of opposing whites or men. But let’s not kid ourselves. This man, had he not been shot, would have embraced one liberal cause after another in addition to racial justice. While alive, he was a fighter on behalf of the poor, the environment, and public health … and spoke out against our discretionary war overseas. One can only imagine all the progressive changes he could have made in these areas were he permitted to grace us during the past few decades with his oratory, charisma, and convictions. Unfortunately, once Dr. King died, a void was created that was never filled. Now, it’s our job to help fill it.

No, my friends, I’m not suggesting that we all go to divinity school, collect our PhDs, and attempt to replicate Dr. King’s vocational trajectory. But I don’t think we have to.

I have met numerous talented progressive clergymen and women who would love to make the kind of difference MLK made 40 years back. The fact is, though, that these clergy can’t accomplish anything all by themselves. Right now, progressive religion has become something of an oxymoron. It’s not hard to find churches and synagogues that call themselves progressive, but the numbers of their congregants who are truly committed to progressive causes are few and far between. Just consider the reaction on the street to our crazy war in Iraq. Where’s the outrage? If MLK and his friends were around, we’d have ten times as many protesters. But today, to quote Abby Hoffman, our society has become a “hotbed of rest.” And while Hoffman was whining about the pathetic state of college campuses, I think you can pin the problem largely on the pathetic state of progressive churches, synagogues, and mosques. The bricks and mortar are doing fine … but the passion and conviction have somehow evaporated through the windows … and down the street to Fundamentalist establishments instead.

If you want to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., do us all a favor. Search in your community for spiritual leaders who most authentically follow his example -- people who preach from the heart, tell us the blunt truth, demonstrate courage as well as insight, focus on achieving fundamental changes, and are fueled by love rather than ambition. Yes, I know, you’re not likely to find King’s clone, or even his equal. But you don’t have to. Just do the best you can. Find that church or synagogue with “relatively” inspired clergy. If you don’t believe in God, pick a Secular Humanist or Ethical Culture establishment. It really matters little what group you pick. Just pick one. Join a progressive organization and get actively involved in it.

Most importantly, when the time comes for “we the people” to take to the street on behalf of critical causes, make sure that your organization is there in force. If you are around to see it all happen, you will literally be able to give the finger to James Earl Ray and bring Dr. King back to life.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


On July 27, 2004, the same day I turned 44, I sat in my mother’s living room mesmerized by the television set. It was showing the Democratic National Convention, and the nominee, John Kerry, had selected a young state senator from Illinois to give the keynote address. On that night, the speaker, Barack Obama, was introduced to the American public. Obama’s address, entitled “The Audacity of Hope,” positioned him as a mainstream progressive who, with good looks, a gifted flair for rhetoric, and a biracial background, would appear to represent the future of American politics. Still in his early 40s, he seemed years, perhaps even decades, from reaching the pinnacle of his power, but there was no question that the sky was the limit. This man, stated simply, was a natural.

Obama made many fans that night. But few could possibly have been more impressed than I was. That address, you see, came at a pivotal time in my life. I was late in the editing stages of my first novel, The Creed Room, which is both a story and an exposition of my personal philosophy. Like all first time novelists, I was insecure about my prospects for publication, or for that matter, the quality of my work. That’s when I saw Obama speak. He seemed to personify just the type of statesman I had been calling for in that book. And that fact accomplished two things. First, it told me, once I saw the incredible reaction to the man, that my book was on to something, Second, it made me feel that The Creed Room wasn’t quite as original as I had thought. There was at least one man out there, I realized, who hardly needed to read the book. He instinctively understood everything I was saying and, unlike me, was in a position to make my vision a reality.

For those of you who prefer blogs to books, The Creed Room is about a group of people, largely strangers to one another, who are brought together by a mysterious “benefactor” to formulate a new creed for humankind. The members of this group spanned a wide spectrum of religious and political ideologies, but they tended to be relatively religious and relatively progressive – like I am. Like Obama is. Their host paid them handsomely to take their divergent views and somehow weave them into a coherent philosophy, which they ultimately coined “Empathic Rationalism.” That is how this blog got its title.

For me, the process of writing the book led to several conclusions germane to my appreciation for Obama.

First and foremost, there exist a number of fundamental problems with our nation and our world that we must tackle soon, or else the consequences could be quite dire. I would suggest that global warming is one such example, and the ongoing war between the Israelis and Palestinians is another.

Second, we will never be able to reach a complete consensus on what these issues are, let alone how we should attack them, but that fact need not sober us, because a complete consensus isn’t necessary to solve these problems well enough.

Third, we may legitimately hope for a solution because we are able, if we try, to form a critical mass of people who will work together in support of common goals. This occurred, for example, when our nation doggedly fought WWII.

Fourth, we will never be able to reach even the “critical mass” stage in tackling a key social problem without the agreement of corporate America … or should I say, the critical mass of corporate America. Similarly, corporate America and its political allies cannot successfully tackle key social problems without the agreement of at least the critical mass of American progressives. Sure they can cut taxes for the rich (and have done so, as we all can attest) … but beyond that, their powers are limited.

Fifth, in order to form coalitions among groups with different ideologies, we need to enrich our national dialogue. This means that we need to foster a culture in which people are: open minded; genuinely interested in public policy matters; willing to listen as much as to talk about these issues; and are compelled to treat their opponents’ arguments with respect, rather than resorting to strawmen and other rhetorical techniques to discredit those arguments. (Whenever I give a talk on The Creed Room, I always quote John Stuart Mill’s line that “In all intellectual debates, both sides tend to be correct in what they affirm, and wrong in what they deny.” That still applies two centuries after Mill wrote it.)

Sixth, it is not enough that our culture needs to embrace the dialogue in its most respectful and positive forms. We need leaders to model this approach – leaders in business, in the entertainment industry, and most importantly, in government.

Seventh, our greatest leaders – those who are most responsible for creating the sea change that removes us from our national malaise (currently, we resemble ancient Rome during its time of decline) – must help us bridge what has become perhaps the most formidable chasm in our nation today. I am referring to the ideological gulf between the religious right and the secular left. The leaders I am envisioning have to be widely respected among both such categories of people. They certainly can’t inspire visceral distaste – by being viewed, for example, as unethical or hypocritical. Rather, they must inspire action to tackle the problems before us. The key concept is that they must be able to inspire, and to do so broadly. Otherwise, they’ll never prove effective in moving the critical mass of the nation, which surely must include plenty of people on both sides of the chasm.

As I formulated these ideas, I found myself wondering if the battle was hopeless. I hadn’t, for example, seen too many leaders who met the criteria set forth in the previous two paragraphs. Then came July 27, 2004. It was at that point that the audacity of my hope was reinstated. We had a man who could lead us – all of us. We had a man who instinctively possessed the qualities needed to turn this nation into one big Creed Room, and to lead us in tackling together our biggest problems … one at a time.

Simply consider the qualities Barack Obama exemplifies. Merely by looking at the guy you can’t help but think of such as ideas as “melting pot” and “unity.” In addition, he is a former president of the Harvard Law Review, so he’s obviously intelligent. In fact, he exudes a mental capacity even more than intelligence: thoughtfulness. This guy is professorial without being didactic. He obviously loves to think things through, but he isn’t simply interested in his own thoughts; he wants to learn from others as well. And it is perhaps those qualities that give him such good judgment, including the judgment to buck the trend among ambitious politicians and reach the correct view on the critical issue of the last several years -- whether to support the Iraq War from its inception.

On July 27, 2004, I didn’t know where he stood on that war, but I’m not surprised he got it right. I would trust his judgment more than a seasoned politician simply because of the intellectual qualities he possesses.

Let me pause at this point and say that Obama is not the only candidate in the race to be both exceptionally intelligent and thoughtful. Hillary’s proponents would argue – perhaps correctly, who am I to say – that she possesses both qualities as well. I’ve never seen her operate in small groups; perhaps she would indeed surprise me with her ability to listen and chew on ideas. But despite all that, Hillary voted to authorize that Iraq War and she has tied herself in knots about the War ever since. The reason appears to be her moral compass. Ultimately, she made a political calculation that being pro-war was the best way to advance her personal ambitions. And it is that sort of power-over-principle attitude that leads roughly half of this nation – enough to prevent any critical mass from forming -- to viscerally distrust her.

Obama, as a politician, is surely not above casting votes in favor of expediency. But he – like McCain – comes across as a man for whom expediency has its limit. Sure he’ll say he’s against the right of gays to marry, even though I’d speculate that he personally would support that right if politics weren’t involved. Yet as much as I care about gay marriage – and readers of The Creed Room know I care about it a lot – it’s not as important as whether to authorize a massive war. On something like that, Barack has always seemed unwilling to compromise his integrity.

I know from the practice of law that some litigators trade above all else on their reputation for integrity, whereas others trade on different things – like their willingness to fight like hell for their client and never back down. Barack is in the former camp. For him, his reputation for ethical excellence is everything – much like it is for McCain. (That partially explains why McCain’s popularity did such a nosedive when he was viewed a little while back as a sell-out to the religious right. That reputation has improved again as we’ve all watched him take on the mainstream of his party on such issues as torture and immigration. McCain is the rare politician whose reputation might actually improve by taking positions contrary to the majority.) As I watched Obama’s keynote address, I said to myself that this is a man who will think long and hard before he would get himself mixed up in a Watergate or a Monicagate.

From the previous paragraph, you can tell that in some important ways, I respect McCain as a fundamentally moral man who can bring together people on different sides of the aisle to get things done for our mutual benefit. But McCain is hardly the kind of inspirational leader we need to usher in the necessary sea change. Take it from a writer who is condemned to being perennially prosaic: McCain speaks in prose; Obama speaks in poetry. And while prose might be interesting, it is poetry that inspires.

I would imagine that most of you have, by now, watched Obama’s “concession” speech after the recent New Hampshire primary. That may have been one of the most poetic and inspiring speeches in our nation’s history. It might not rank up there with the “I Have a Dream” speech or the “Gettysburg Address,” but I dare say that it has a place at the next level. Perhaps William Jennings Bryan or Daniel Webster would disagree. Perhaps. Then again, prior to July 2004, I had thought of their species as extinct. Obama’s keynote address was probably not the equal of his oration in New Hampshire, but it was damned good enough that you could see the potential. And let’s face it – here is a man, here is a genius, whose best days are ahead of him. Hillary uses that argument as a reason not to vote for him, and many people seem willing to buy into that. But folks, remember the first of the seven Creed Room principles stated above. We have some issues that need to be tackled right now! Can we really afford to wait a full nine years before we tackle global warming? Can we really afford to elect a President like Hillary or McCain who might say the right things but is unable to lead our nation and our world to action?

Permit me to quote from a recent column by E.J. Dionne, Jr., one of my favorite political columnists:

“If Mrs. Clinton's answers come off as well-intended lectures, Mr. Obama is offering soaring sermons and generational opportunity. In 1960, the articulate Adlai Stevenson compared his own oratory unfavorably to John F. Kennedy's. ‘Do you remember,’ Mr. Stevenson said, ‘that in classical times when Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, 'How well he spoke,' but when Demosthenes had finished speaking, the people said, 'Let us march.' ‘At this hour, Mr. Obama is the Democrats' Demosthenes.’”

That potential was clear to many of us on July 27, 2004. And that alone makes Obama unique. But that wasn’t what thrilled me the most about watching his keynote address. Go back to the seventh point I raised above in discussing The Creed Room. Now think about Demosthenes. If you put that legendary Greek orator in a time machine and brought him to the present, we would all see that he is an immensely talented speaker. Maybe he could even inspire us to action. But he couldn’t bridge our fundamental chasm … after all, he lived hundreds of years before Jesus and a millennia before Muhammad. I somehow doubt that his views could speak to the issues about spirituality that so divide us today.

Obama is different. As I watched that keynote address and listened to him focus so heavily on religion … that’s when my hope reached its crescendo. Here was a politician who clearly appreciated the need for separation between “church” and “state.” He understood, in other words, that the government should not promote one religion over others, or even religion over non-religion, let alone abridge the freedom of religious exercise. He also believed that the fundamental values of religion are consistent with those of progressive politics – the imperatives of caring for and educating the poor, respecting the dignity of all people, honoring the rights of minorities, preserving civil liberties, working together with other nations for peace (rather than attempting to impose peace on other nations), etc. But … here was a man who was also thoroughly grounded in spirituality. And to know this man the way we all come to know our Presidents would inevitably require that we perceive that deep love of religion that he brings to all walks of life. Even many members of the religious right would come to appreciate that sincere religiosity. And that thought pleased me no end.

When I get into political discussions with supporters of other candidates, I sometimes hear the criticism that Obama is an “empty suit” or “lacks substance.” I can understand the argument that he lacks “experience,” but “substance”? What people mean by the latter is that he hasn’t enunciated what issue is most important to him and how precisely he hopes to tackle it, or what other issues are nearly as important to him and how precisely he hopes to tackle them as well.

Don’t you see why he hasn’t? Don’t you see why it would be unfortunate if we forced him to? Obama has been honest with us about who he is and why he’s running. He has written books about his checkered personal life, for crying out loud. He has spoken about his cocaine use. He has even said, in reference to another drug, “Yes I inhaled. That was the point.” He has a record of votes that shows he’s a liberal, and while running for President, he hasn’t flip-flopped on that record. He has mentioned some general areas where he’d like to implement reforms. He has even laid out a specific “plan” to address our inadequate health care system.

But the truth is that if you buy my vision for an Obama Presidency, you must know that he needs to remain flexible. Once he wins the election – assuming the nation wakes up before it’s too late, which is often a lousy assumption – he needs to take the temperature of the nation to determine which fundamental changes are ripe for the picking if only we had a modern-day Demosthenes to lead us in making them. Then, he can work to make these changes … one at a time … all the while remembering that it takes a large coalition of conservatives as well as liberals to wage wars, whether they involve killing people on the battlefield, stemming global warming, or alleviating the scourge of poverty.

It is easy enough to assemble a collection of the “Best and the Brightest” and construct ten-point plans for solving society’s problems. But those plans are written in prose. Let’s first of all revel in this man’s poetry. He’s a 46-year-old guy, the child of a goat herder from Africa, who has one name that sounds like Saddam’s and another that sounds like Bin Ladin’s. You’ll forgive him if he feels that he must first make the sale to the masses in poetic language. Only after he’s elected -- only after he has waxed poetically about the need for a particular reform – do we need him to set forth every bloody detail.

“Yes, we can,” Obama said over and over again in his New Hampshire concession speech. “Yes, we can.” There was little use of the first person singular. Like any great spiritual statement, it was nearly all addressed in the first person plural. “We the people,” right? Barack Obama was offering a response to Hillary Clinton’s shameless argument that he had some chutzpah in raising people’s hope excessively. Is that really possible?

We’ve been sitting back and watching our nation grapple with Jim Crow… the Vietnam War … Watergate … Monicagate … taking the lead in creating Global Warming … and now, our mysterious and almost laughable misadventure in Iraq. And someone is being lectured for making us believe in our future. Wow.

I don’t want to lie to myself. I don’t know if Obama can get elected. And if he does get elected, I don’t know if he can sufficiently unify this nation to form the type of critical mass needed to implement necessary changes. But this much I do know: without him, there’s not a lot of gas in our collective tank. And for those of us who call ourselves progressives, or who dare to call ourselves liberals, isn’t it worth taking a chance on someone who can at least use the word “hope” and pass the laugh test?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


I knew enough about politics to appreciate the high likelihood that the pre-primary polls in New Hampshire wouldn't precisely predict the outcome. But I never dreamed that Barack Obama, who was ten points ahead of Hillary Clinton, on average, in the final pre-primary polls that I saw, could actually lose by a couple of percent.

Explanations? I have many, but none of them ring true. If any of you feel that you can adequately explained what happened yesterday in the Granite State, do tell.

As for me, I simply recall from my days in law school that I am NOT a New Englander, so my understanding of how they think is probably less than reliable.

In any event, good luck to Barack as he picks up the pieces from last night. If nothing else, he gave another amazing speech ... even if it was in defeat.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


Last month, I drew comparisons between Hillary Clinton and Tracy Flick, the character played by Reese Witherspoon in the movie Election, whose ambition, narcissism, and unscrupulousness swallowed up any positive traits she possessed as a political candidate. I thought, however, that the comparison was a bit harsh to Hillary and admitted as much – by acknowledging that Flick was, after all, a “stereotype.”

But that was before last night.

I don’t know how many of you had the displeasure of watching the Democratic Presidential debate in New Hampshire, but it got ugly. Bill Richardson said that he attended hostage negotiations that were more civil, and I don’t doubt that for a second. What Richardson – always diplomatic – didn’t say was that the ugliness wasn’t bilateral. It was all being generated by one candidate. Last night, she was once again channeling Flick, only this time, it wasn’t the Flick who was thrusting up her hand in class to answer all the teachers’ questions but the Flick who was ripping down the posters of her opponents. This Flick was purely and unabashedly mean. Don’t believe me? Just look at the photos of Hillary on today’s Huffington Post. I’ve seen more pleasant faces during the climax of Kubrick movies.

Hillary wasn’t simply making faces; she was venting her spleen. Interrupting her opponents at will, she’d briskly unleash a diatribe against one Obama position after another. At times I felt she would mischaracterize the facts (I’m still puzzled by her criticizing him for saying he wouldn’t support any funding for the Iraq War; as far as I know, he opposed the war from the beginning, but never said that under no circumstances would he vote for war-funding bills), but then again, this wasn’t about the facts. She seemed more interested simply in showing that she was the aggressor, and as every fight fan knows, when in doubt, “give the round to the aggressor.”

Grudgingly, Hillary had to acknowledge Obama’s likeability, but that was about the only concession she made all night. Her campaign now has a mantra, which is, in essence, “Obama’s a guy who only talks about change, but Hillary will implement it.” If I heard that one time last night, I heard it ten times. And what it amounts to is the willingness to treat the Obama’s candidacy with utter disrespect. She didn’t explicitly call him an “empty suit,” but she may as well have. And this, folks, was in a primary. You can only imagine how she’d treat an opponent in a general election.

Perhaps this was a new strategy unveiled last night. Perhaps Hillary has decided that America doesn’t need civil debates, it needs a return to the era of Saturday Night Fights. Truly, watching a bunch of people standing on a stage respectfully outlining their own positions and respectfully drawing contrasts with each other can get a tad boring. Hillary was, if nothing else, the opposite of boring. Still, I have trouble believing that the American public will go for that sort of performance. Stated another way, I’ve always assumed that if Tracy Flick were to be stripped bare in front of the entire study body (figuratively, that is), she would have lost that election. Hillary, though, seems to think that Flick unplugged makes for a pretty attractive candidate. Go figure.

If you’re trying to figure out the justification for Hillary’s new in-your-face strategy, look only to the words of her former co-President. After his gal lost in Iowa, he returned to his old strategy of whining about the mass media. If Hill has to go negative against Obama, Bill suggested, it would be because the media has forced her to do so with its inappropriately negative coverage of her candidacy. Here are Bill’s precise words:

“… “Nobody would be happier to see all this go away than us. But you can’t ask somebody who is at a breathtaking disadvantage in the information coming to the voters to ignore that disadvantage and basically agree to put bullets in their brains.”

Class, huh? And I think it is especially classy to use that “bullet in their brains” image to refer to a fight she is about to wage against an inspirational black candidate like Barack Obama.

Memo to Bill: You and your wife have been propped up by the media. You have no grounds to complain. It was the media who did your wife’s bidding by slamming Obama this past summer for daring to suggest that if our military had to go into Pakistan to get Bin Ladin, we should do so. And it was the media who did your wife’s bidding by slamming Obama this past summer for daring to suggest that we should speak to tyrants around the world – just speak, mind you, not make concessions. From what I can tell, Bill, prior to last night, the media hasn’t been pushing down your wife at all. It has simply been marveling at Obama’s incredible talent. That talent has been on display for anyone who watched him speak after the Iowa caucuses, just as it was displayed on numerous occasions dating back to his Democratic Convention speech in 2004. Rhetorically, Obama is the closest thing we’ve had in Presidential politics to a Martin Luther King. That’s patently obvious. So why Bill, just why, would you talk about your wife’s battle against him with metaphors about putting “bullets in … brains”?

I’ll tell you why Bill Clinton invoked such a violent metaphor. It wasn’t because he wants to see someone use violence – these Clintons may be a tad sick, but they’re not (as some suggest) evil. It was because for the Clintons, winning political elections is so important that it has become almost a life and death proposition – much like it was for Tracy Flick. For Bill, had Hillary simply ran a civil campaign, calling attention to her differences with Obama but in a respectful manner, then Hillary might actually lose this election. And to lose this election would be tantamount to putting “bullets in [one’s own] brains.” Hillary brought that do-or-die attitude to the stage last night.

The irony of Bill’s statement, of course, is that by fighting like Flick (unlike, say, the way Obama fought when he was behind in the polls this past fall), Hillary might indeed be destroying her own candidacy with the speed of a bullet. Bill might want Hillary to fight like the great Duk Koo Kim. (You might remember Kim as the Korean who fought brilliantly against Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini for 15 rounds, literally giving it all he had, but after he died from the injuries suffered in that fight, boxing reduced the number of rounds in championship fights from 15 to 12.) In fact, however, if the Clintons want to attack Barack like Kim attacked Mancini, I doubt seriously that they’ll make it to the 15th round, or even the 12th.

Surely, Hillary’s biggest fans will enjoy performances like last night’s, just as Kim’s fans enjoyed the Mancini fight before they heard about its outcome. I can just imagine all the “You Go Girl” chants that erupted last night across the country. But if you want to win an election, you can’t just appeal to your base. You’ve got to reach out and attract the skeptical. And if many skeptics were persuaded by what they saw last night, then this country is even scarier than I thought it was.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


I will obviously have more to say about the Presidential campaign during the upcoming months -- perhaps even during the upcoming days -- but I couldn't let the Sun come up without hailing what Iowa did tonight. I have been a huge Obama fan since I heard him deliver the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention. Well, that same Obama who wowed the nation in 2004 was on display in Iowa tonight.

Don't blame him for being charismatic, America. Don't fear his charisma. Embrace it! This is a good man. And he can use that charisma to implement honest-to-God positive social change.

A vote for most of the candidates is a vote for the status quo -- namely, four more years of polarization. We can't afford that. We need a President who can excite Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike and thereby hammer through bold legislation. The only candidate who can really inspire the critical mass of this country is Barack Obama. If you don't believe me, just watch a tape of his speech tonight. Please.