Wednesday, April 23, 2008


My namesake (middle names count too, you know) famously said that “God does not play dice with the universe.” I still believe that, but I’m beginning to see evidence to the contrary.

Consider what happened last night in Pennsylvania. A 20-point victory could have given Hillary Clinton the momentum she needed to thump Obama in Indiana and all but break even in North Carolina, thereby setting her up for a possible victory in the popular vote. If that had happened, all bets would be off. By contrast, a five-point victory for Clinton would have given Barack the momentum – not to mention a hammerlock on the nomination, perhaps as soon as a fortnight from now. But that’s not what happened either. Instead, we Democrats find ourselves back where we’ve been all along – in the middle of the road, with trucks coming at us from both directions. As you surely know by now, Hillary won by ten percent … or was it nine? Actually, it was 9.4%, or 10% if you round the percentages first before you calculate the differential.

So there you have it, she wins by enough to support her claims to the nomination but not by enough to undermine his. Her people will continue to think that she deserves the victory and his will do the same. And they will all continue to disagree about which factors matter the most. In fact, they won’t even agree about whether Hillary won Pennsylvania by “double digits.” In essence, Clinton supporters and Obama supporters appear fated to agree about nothing.

If I believed in an anthropomorphic, dice-playing deity, I’d start wondering if the good Lord wasn’t a big-time McCain supporter. Clearly, McCain was the big winner in Pennsylvania, right? Well … not exactly. He was running unopposed, or so I thought. But if you look at the results, McCain received only 73% of the Republican votes, and barely half as many as Obama. Apparently, just as Clinton would have trouble receiving votes from college students, black folks, and my fellow “latte liberals,” and just as many old people and poor whites of all ages don’t care for Obama … lots of Republicans don’t think much of John McCain. So maybe the Lord isn’t a McCain guy after all. Maybe he just enjoys an uproarious political comedy from time to time.

Today, zillions of Barack supporters are becoming so furious with Clinton that they’re fit to be tied. She and her hubby have become the convenient scapegoats for the problems Barack is having closing the deal with the Archie Bunker Democrats that have heretofore been needed to keep Pennsylvania blue and Ohio in play. The Clintons are said to be thoroughly Machiavellian figures who are either trying to win now or in 2012, and thus prefer McCain to Obama. Even some of Hillary’s supporters playfully call her a “bitch,” as if that quality is part of her charm.

Well, folks, I’m no fan of the Clintons, but I have named this blog “Empathic Rationalist” for some very good reasons. And one of them is that I’m devoted to sharing with you the dictates of that voice of reason in my head, even when she whispers things that I hate to hear. So believe me when I tell you that what I’m about to acknowledge is painful.

Sure, Barack is starting to resemble Evander Holyfield in the ring with Mike Tyson. But Barack has problems that go way beyond Hillary chewing on his ear. He’s got serious difficulties connecting with the typical Rust Belt voter. And the Democrats need a pretty decent percentage of those folks if they hope to regain the White House.

Don’t kid yourself. Something changed last evening. Barack had six weeks to seal the deal in an important swing state, and a large fraction of the Democrats there are now saying that they’d choose McCain over him in the General Election. Many of the same people who gave Kerry the victory in Pennsylvania in 2004 would now choose McCain if Barack were to be nominated. Somehow, he must change their minds. In other words, for Barack to be President, he will have to significantly alter the present dynamic in places like Pittsburgh and Youngstown. How he does that remains to be seen.

Moreover, it is notable that we’re no longer hearing any more comparisons between Barack and JFK. Now, Barack is being compared to another former Democratic nominee for President. The man I have in mind is a liberal darling who, like Barack hopes to be, was nominated during the latter days of a hated war. I’m referring to that symbol of political futility -- George McGovern.

Just think about it – with each passing week, the Republicans and the DLC Democrats have been increasingly successful portraying Barack as (a) such a wimp that he couldn’t even bowl a 40, (b) such a snob that he sounds like a sociology prof from Brandeis when he discusses Middle America’s concerns, and (c) such a pinko that he won’t even wear the Stars and Stripes on his suit coat and hangs out with people who boast about bombing the Pentagon and curse America from the pulpit. It’s not a pretty portrait, and it isn’t likely to disappear from our eyes any time soon.

Personally, none of that has affected my view of Barack in the slightest. Really, it’s not much different from Swift Boating, only this time, the crap is coming from Democrats as well as Republicans. But I must regretfully admit that the past few weeks have affected my view of Barack’s electability. While I’d still marginally favor him to win against John McCain, I sure wouldn’t bet the ranch on that assessment.

The fact is, however, that we’re not yet at the stage of the General Election. Barack still has work to do in order to gain the nomination. There will be plenty of Obama fans who think the sky is falling on that score. Honestly, I don’t happen to be one of them. Barack has all but clinched the pledged delegate race and is soon about to claim the popular vote majority as well (if you exclude Michigan and Florida, where neither candidate campaigned). He has also won the clear majority of states. And he has demonstrated fundraising prowess that is impossible to match.

If, in light of all of that, the superdelegates were to seriously consider giving Hillary the victory, someone will surely remind them that they could very well drive their most loyal constituency (African-Americans) away from their Party for a long, long time. Plus, the superdelegates would take all the new voters who are suddenly expressing enthusiasm in politics and send them right back to where they came from – a state of apathy.

So while I’m not terribly confident about the General Election, I remain bullish about Barack’s chances for the nomination. God might be placing dice with the process, but the “fun” has to stop sometime, and I just don’t see it stopping with a decision to overturn the will of the majority and invite charges of “Racism, American Style.”

Make no mistake -- Obama hasn’t yet demonstrated himself to be a Profile in Courage, like JFK or MLK. But I still say that he is more like those figures than George McGovern. And at the end of August, you’ll see my Party making that point loudly and clearly. Will the Clintons join the festivities with the same kind of enthusiasm that, say, Mitt Romney now brings in support of McCain? I can’t answer that. And whoever can may indeed know the identity of our next President.

[Note – I will be out of town for the next several days and will not be able to post comments until I return.]

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Last week, I introduced a two-part series on rising stars in the world of progressive politics. The subject of Part One was my old friend, Steve Novick, who I increasingly believe has a legitimate chance to become the Junior U.S. Senator from the State of Oregon. The general consensus is that he clearly won the televised debate this week among the Democratic candidates.

Moreover, Novick leads in all the polls and has a fair amount of momentum. So even though you still have to pinch me when I hear the words “Senator Novick,” I must recognize that there’s no one in Oregon – neither a Democrat nor a Republican – who I’d put as a clear favorite against him. Considering that Novick has never before been elected to office at ANY level … he is truly a rising star.

Today, though, I’d like to talk about a star with an even more rapid trajectory. She, like Novick, belongs to a tiny minority in American politics today. Novick is in the class of political figures who are shorter than 4’ 10” and have only one arm. But the person I’d like to highlight today is in a group that is every bit as minute -- out-of-the-closet lesbians. Surely you can name many such individuals who are influential in the political world. What? You can’t name one? Well, other than this lady, neither can I.

The woman I have in mind claims to be the first out-of-the-closet lesbian to be a Rhodes Scholar. The Stanford grad matriculated in Oxford in 1995, at the age of 22, and now has become arguably the leading progressive talking head in America.

Do you know who I’m referring to? Most Americans wouldn’t. Would it help if I added that her radio show has the evening drive time slot on Air America? How about if I added that she regularly appears on Keith Olbermann’s MSNBC show, and has occasionally served as the show’s guest host? If that’s not enough hints, I can only offer you one more: she is beginning to make a name for herself by repeatedly besting Joe Scarborough on the air. If you’ve watched Morning Joe, you’ll know that he’s used to bullying women. But this is one woman he can’t bully. And he’s beginning to realize that painful lesson. Just check out these two links, which show his progression, first by playing the role of a punk who tries to beat her up in the schoolyard, and second, by whining and then running away from the conflict.

Video #1 (

(when you get to this site, type in "Maddow schools Scarborough")

Video #2 (

The rising star’s name, as you all can tell by now, is Rachel Maddow. She is nothing short of the answer to my prayers for a progressive talking head who is likeable, sharp as a tack, and extremely knowledgeable about public policy. She always keeps her cool, is never shrill, and seems to be always at peace with her role as a debater for progressive causes. Whereas many of her fellow progressive talking heads (e.g., Randy Rhodes) prefer childish ridicule to logic, Rachel doesn’t allow her arguments to become puerile. In fact, she is that rare bird who is off the charts quick witted AND thoughtful -- a deadly pair, especially when combined with her incredible poise.

If you think I’m exaggerating, watch those exchanges with Scarborough again and note the mastery of her craft. In the first one, Joe tries to interrupt her flow but he can’t – she hears him with one ear, but she’s equally concentrating on continuing to make her point, which she does impeccably. And all the while, she’s smiling. You’ve got to love the part in the first video when Scarborough, a Republican who devotes most of his morning show to speaking on behalf of working class white Democrats -- tells Rachel that she has no business speaking for the Republican base. She simply laughs off his chutzpah and continues on with her argument.

By the time that the second video was made, you’d think Scarborough would have known that he had met his match. But he can’t resist a good scrap. First, he tries to interrupt her, but she doesn’t let him – she doesn’t speak over him, she simply makes light of his effort. Then, he says, ironically, that “I don’t engage in Crossfire type debates,” when in fact he engages in these debates all the time in talking to guests and co-hosts whom he can bully. Next, he suggests that unlike Rachel, who might want to “yell back and forth,” he’s above that sort of thing; in truth, Rachel doesn’t yell because she doesn’t need to, she has such a superior command of rhetoric that anything as crude as yelling would hardly be in her repertoire. Then, Scarborough resorts to the ad hominem attack by suggesting that since Maddow hasn’t run for public office, she couldn’t truly know what she’s talking about when it comes to politics. She deftly deflects that comment with a priceless facial expression – like I said, no need to be shrill when you’re a professional. And finally, no doubt recognizing that everything in his bag of tricks was failing him, Scarborough simply undoes his microphone and walks out of the studio. Presumably, he headed to a phone where the voice on the other end was met with something like “Mommy, mommy, this mean ol’ dyke is picking on me again.”

Masterful stuff. To a politics junky like me, it’s like watching a guy make a 50 foot double breaking putt, or a circus catch in the end zone. Whether you’re talking about politics, golf, or football, when you see a real professional, you just want to stand up and applaud.

It will take a while before someone like Rachel Maddow can become beloved throughout America. If you think our society has a problem with racism, it ain’t nothing compared to our issues with homophobia. Many people will listen to her for ten seconds, dismiss her as a leftist lesbian, and change the channel. But time is NOT on their side. As the years have passed, so has the extent of homophobia in society, and I see no reason why that trend won’t continue. As for the charge of Rachel’s “leftism,” I think we will all soon come to realize that as long as a talking head is thoughtful, courteous, and logical in presenting arguments, our nation’s political marketplace can only benefit from his or her voice, regardless of where that voice falls on the spectrum of ideas.

I’ve always been one who enjoys friendships with people on various points throughout that spectrum. I have even gone so far as to say that I consider Ronald Reagan, whose substantive views I disagree with on virtually every issue, as one of my political heroes, due to his integrity, candor, self-assurance, and clarity of vision. We need to stop judging political figures primarily by whether we agree with their philosophies, but rather by whether they exhibit the character and talent needed to make our public sphere as vibrant as possible. I may yet turn out to be wrong, but my hunch is that Rachel Maddow will pass this test with flying colors. I encourage you to listen to her show on Air America, watch her appearances on Keith Olbermann’s program, and judge for yourself.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


I’d like to devote this, and my next, blog post, to two different individuals. If they were stocks, I’d definitely say “buy.” One is a bit more of a long shot than the other, but in both cases, the trajectory is upward and the speed is rapid.

Let’s begin with someone who is no stranger to this part of cyberspace – Mr. Novick. His bid for the United States Senate started out as the longest of long shots. He had never been elected to anything, you see, and he has virtually no money. As a result, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee felt the need to practically beg someone else to compete with him. But what do you know? By hook, if not by crook, Novick has turned this competition into a dogfight. If he wins that nomination – and he’s ahead now in every poll I’ve seen – he would then be rolling in DSCC dough and have an excellent chance of upsetting the incumbent, who sits precariously as the only Republican senator from a West Coast state.

Since Novick is currently ahead in the polls, does that mean he’s favored to win the nomination? Not by me. He gets a lot of lovin’ now because he’s the superior talent in the race. But remember, while his opponent Jeff Merkley may be a wooden presence on stage, Merkley has the backing of Democratic officialdom. That might not have worked so well for Hillary Clinton in her race against Barack Obama, but in a local contest, it essentially guarantees a big fundraising advantage. And that fundraising advantage may indeed be enough to help Merkley eke out a victory in May.

Right now, everyone agrees that we’ve got a dead heat on our hands. I urge all of you to follow the competition closely. You’ve presumably already watched Novick’s commercials (if not, go to: and, which have received accolades from all over the country as some of the most creative political ads in years. (By contrast, Merkley’s ads could help cure insomnia.) You may not know that one of Novick’s commercials – the one in which he opens up a guy’s beer with his left “arm” (a metallic hook) – has given rise to a new product: Left Hook Lager. That’s right, this campaign has spawned an official beer. It is only available in Oregon, but if any of you know Oregonians, they should be able to get this beer, and if they do, I’d love a report on how the stuff tastes.

How cool is that, by the way – a beer brewed specifically for a local political campaign? The only thing cooler would be for that campaign to trot out several big name rock stars who’ve endorse the candidate.

Well … now that’s happened too. This week, the Novick campaign announced the endorsements of Colin Meloy of The Decemberists, Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini, Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, Michael Stipe of R.E.M., Britt Daniel of Spoon, Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie, Krist Novoselic of Nirvana and Flipper, Dave Dederer of The Presidents of the United States, Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney, and Rufus Wainwright. My own personal favorite from that list is Michael Stipe, with Stone Gossard a close second. I guess Stone couldn’t find a “Better Man,” Stipe agreed, and now they are both “Shiny Happy People.” (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

The Merkley folks were getting frustrated before this latest round of endorsements, for Steve had previously been endorsed by the state’s leading teacher’s union and such Oregon heroes as former Governor John Kitzhaber and former Congressman Les AuCoin. Now, however, the Merkleyites are getting downright cranky. Just check out the Blue Oregon traffic at and you’ll see how much animosity this race is generating. That animosity was probably quite predictable. After all, Merkley, the solid politico who serves as the State’s Speaker of the House, was the anointed one. He was supposed to take the money raised by Chuck Schumer and the boys from D.C. and BUY the shot to take on Senator Gordon Smith in the fall. But then again, Hill was supposed to BUY the shot to take on the GOP at the Presidential level. Now, far from getting the opportunity to fight the Republicans, she is relegated to propping them up ("I think that I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House. I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002."). Similarly, after reading the polls, Merkley has stopped firing his ammunition at Gordon Smith and is now forced to unleash the dogs against Mr. Novick with a series of petty attacks.

You know what they say: Hell hath no fury like an overdog-politician scorned.

Those of you who are politically progressive, and have a soft spot in your heart for extremely authentic, honest, funny, knowledgeable, intelligent and maverick politicians, please find yourself an Oregon blog – Loaded Orygun is a pro-Novick blog, Blue Oregon (lately, it’s been singing the blues) is a pro Merkley bog – and GET INVOLVED.

Novick in the U.S. Senate is a once in a generation opportunity for us all. Let’s not blow it.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


Yesterday, April 4, 2008, was the 40th anniversary of the death of the greatest American of the last hundred years. This is the one 20th century figure who we honor with a national holiday, a holiday that symbolizes our commitment to justice, courage, unity, and, above all, character.

Like Martin Luther King, Jr., we can all dream. But not all of our dreams are as grandiose as his. Today, in honor of the new baseball season and a new stadium in what will hopefully become a “new” city, I offer a dream of my own. I certainly hope that by borrowing his rhetoric (and much of his language), I don’t cause the great Dr. King to roll over in his grave:

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all cities are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood and decide to make a pilgrimage to their nation’s capital.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, once sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into a place where caravan after caravan of minivans containing folks, both white and black, embark on a trip to see the National Gallery of Art, the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Mount Vernon, and its most unifying shrine of all, Nationals Park.

I have a dream that my two daughters will one day live in a nation where their city will not be judged by the color of the skin of the majority of its inhabitants, but by the importance of the work that is done there and the potential of that work to beautify our nation and our world.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips once dripped with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and agree that they will devote at least part of their lives to a so-called “public service” occupation,” maybe even in public office.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every American valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, the crooked businesspeople and politicians will be made straight, our nation’s public and private sectors can extol each other’s virtues, and the electorate will be active and energized, and all flesh shall see this together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to my home in suburban Bethesda, Maryland. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, to watch National League baseball together, knowing that we will be free one day of Washington-D.C. bashing, free of suggestions by demagogues that those who struggle in public service are somehow not “real” Americans unlike their brothers and sisters in the Midwest.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My capital city, 'tis of thee, sweet town of unity, of thee I sing. Town for which my fathers cried, town for which my mothers sighed, but now a source of all our pride, let the bells of the National Cathedral ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let unity ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let unity ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let unity ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let unity ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let unity ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!

But not only that; let unity ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let unity ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let unity ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let unity ring.

When we let unity ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, you know what this means. We will have stopped trying to appeal more to “Reagan Democrats” than to “yellow-dog Democrats,” or more to libertarians than to “values” conservatives,” but we will instead respectfully admit all Americans into the national dialogue. We will have stopped trying to say that “elites” in Manhattan or Dupont Circle are less entitled to our respect than mechanics from Mechanicsburg. We will have stopped speaking about our politicians like we expect them to lie to us, but demand instead that they treat us with honesty and challenge us by appealing to our better angels. And when all this is accomplished, and only when all this is accomplished, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Unitarian-Universalist spiritual, "Unified at last! Unified at last! thank God Almighty, we are unified at last!"


P.S. – This bizarre little post was inspired by two things: my sincere love for MLK, Jr. and my sheer delight at the idea that the Washington Nationals won the first three games of their season. Since then, the Nats have dropped their last two … and reality may be setting in. But it’s always nice sometimes to put reality aside for a moment and dream a little. To me, the Obama candidacy has been two parts reality and three parts dream. And I have no doubt that while MLK, Jr. might be shaking his head at my own attempt to transform his words, he could only be thrilled at the thought that he so palpably inspired a politician as gifted as our next President, Barack Hussein Obama.