Saturday, September 27, 2008
IS SARAH PALIN READY TO BE YOUR VICE PRESIDENT?
John McCain certainly rolled the dice when he chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Her instantaneous rise to well-known status (as a celebrity for some and a target for others) may rank as one of the most abrupt introductions to national political prominence in history. The last several vice-presidential picks, winners or losers, were choices with a certain amount of name recognition behind them: John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, Dick Cheney, Jack Kemp, George H.W. Bush … even Dan Quayle and Geraldine Ferraro had some level of national exposure before being tapped as running mates. Because of the intense reaction to her selection, both positive and negative, and the obvious political gamble that McCain took in choosing her, the last several weeks have been even more interesting than the previous 18 months.
Democrats had a particularly bad reaction to Palin’s selection, and while most of the arguments concerning her qualifications and the motivations behind her being chosen are legitimate, the severity and consistency of their attacks caught me by surprise. Much of McCain’s opposition decided early on that Palin had to be defined, and there are at least a couple of main reasons as well as pros and cons to the tactics that were used.
Reason 1) Sarah Palin was (and to a large degree still is) a complete unknown. While her selection and initial introduction by the McCain campaign rallied the Republican base and gave McCain his first lead in the polls since securing the nomination, most Americans had no idea who Palin really was, what she stands for and if she would make a good vice president. Democrats seized the opportunity to define her as an extremist and as extraordinarily unprepared for the job.
Reason 2) Fear. Democrats felt compelled to keep up the attacks on the number-two position on the GOP ticket because her selection genuinely energized many Republicans, at least for a short time. And she genuinely scared Democrats. Could a small-town mayor and short-time governor from one of America’s most distant and least populous states actually swing the election? Many Obama supporters apparently believed she could, so they opened fire on Palin — from fair points about her record to risky critiques of her family and personal life. Obama’s faithful had reason to be concerned: in choosing Palin, McCain was making an open bid for disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters.
Though the overall premise of that strategy is flawed, there will be some voters who support McCain simply because of who Palin is and what she represents. Some will be women who see McCain as more sensitive to gender issues or simply want to see a woman in the office. Some will be men who are attracted to her fiestiness or her looks. Some will be complete idiots who believe her ability to field-dress a moose or her photo op with an automatic weapon qualify her for the vice presidency. Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker praised Palin, calling her the “perfect storm of God, Mom and apple pie.” Any way you slice it, there were demographic advantages in choosing Palin, and Democrats pounced on her immediately to try to offset those advantages.
Pros) As Peg Britton noted in her blog last week, Democrats seemed to be at least somewhat successful in branding Palin. Her negativity ratings shot up considerably, although there’s almost a guarantee that anyone who is brand new to the national scene will have relatively neutral numbers to begin with and the positives and negatives will develop after they become more well-known. But Democrats effectively branded her as inexperienced, unprepared and extremist. Democrats were also effective in pointing out how carefully the GOP is handling Palin — she’s given very few interviews, taken minimal questions from the press and been sequestered for all but a few seconds of her hastily arranged meetings with foreign leaders.
The more the public learns about Sarah Palin, the more questions they seem to have. The McCain campaign is not being incredibly forthcoming with answers, and the Democrats continue to press her as a liability and a concern. Overall perceptions seem to be trending toward her being too risky to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Cons) Democratic attacks on Palin did leave a bad taste in some voters’ mouths. It’s unclear if the sympathy that was generated by the deluge of criticism from the left will impact her overall image, but charges of media bias and sexism were rampant as the Democrats escalated their arguments from questioning her record and experience to questioning her dedication to her family. The media of course reported on all of the talking points coming from the left and kept Palin in the spotlight for over two solid weeks — definitely a disadvantage to Democrats.
It was also risky for Democrats to question Palin’s experience. The candidate at the top of their own ticket has been criticized since he started running for president about his lack of experience. It seemed like a non-starter for Democrats to question her experience, although serious reservations about her preparedness have continued among Democrats and Republicans alike.
All in all, the pros for the Democrats seem to be outweighing the cons, and as Sarah Palin becomes more well-known, their criticisms are being validated to a certain degree. And the question still remains: is she ready to be the vice president? As I wrote in a comment on another blog a few weeks ago, I think that Palin was an awful choice, motivated by purely tactical thinking.
If experience was truly important to McCain, he would have chosen someone who had done more than govern one of the smallest states in the United States for just shy of two years, and who had done more than be the mayor of a town the size of Colby, KS, prior to that. Not to knock on Colby Mayor Ken Bieber, but I don’t think a few months in the Governor’s mansion in Topeka would prepare him to be President of the United States. And I don’t think Sarah Palin is prepared, either. I’m confused as to how her “control of a National Guard unit,” as many GOP pundits have touted, somehow makes her a great pick. It doesn’t. Control of Guard units doesn’t make you a foreign policy expert or a diplomat, and that’s what our situation in the world calls for at this time. I feel far more confident in a Vice President Biden’s ability to do so, given that he was negotiating arms reduction treaties with the Soviet Union when Sarah Palin was in junior high.
Arguments made in favor of her experience and ability to do the job since I wrote that in late-Autust haven’t been any better. She’s apparently better prepared than any senator due to her “executive experience.” She’s a reformer because she fired a chef and tried to sell a plane on eBay. She’s got foreign policy credentials because, as Palin herself said, “[when] Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It’s Alaska.”
Her “executive experience” is laughable. Drop the BS — her 20 months in Alaska’s governor’s mansion (many of which were charged to taxpayers as “travel days”) can’t match Joe Biden’s 36 years in the Senate, or John McCain’s 26 years in Congress, or even Barack Obama’s three years in the U.S. Senate and eight as a state senator. So she fired a chef. Big deal. I actually wouldn’t be real keen on publicizing my willingness to fire people considering our current economic situation. Her much touted sale of an unnecessary government plane on eBay is unnecessarily spun into a flat-out lie by the GOP — in fact, she couldn’t sell the plane on eBay and ended up selling it at a loss via conventional methods. And she should have gracefully accepted defeat on the “I can see Russia from my house” argument instead of stubbornly continuing to defend it as she did in a painfully bad interview with CBS’ Katie Couric.
As I mentioned earlier, Palin has done only a handful of interviews (and softballs from Sean Hannity don’t count), and the most recent with Katie Couric was actually hard to watch. While Palin struggled for answers, I struggled to understand what she was trying to say. U.S. News and World Report columnist Robert Schlesinger hit the mark when he desribed her interview as a “talking points machine gone out of control. Or magnetic poetry that you have on your fridge – in fact, you can try it at home. String together key words and phrases like ’shore up the economy,’ ‘reduce tax rates,’ ‘healthcare reform,’ and ‘trade’ and see what kind of Palinisms you can create.”
You can watch both segments of Palin’s interview (or read the transcripts) with Couric on CBS’ Web site and judge her performance for yourself. My initial skepticism about her has been validated by her performance (or lack thereof) over the past several weeks, and now, many conservative pundits are expressing their doubts as well.
Kathleen Parker, the same conservative columnist who praised Palin immediately after her selection was announced, is now publicly questioning the selection. Parker wrote, “If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself,” and, “If Palin were a man, we’d all be guffawing, just as we do every time Joe Biden tickles the back of his throat with his toes. But because she’s a woman — and the first ever on a Republican presidential ticket — we are reluctant to say what is painfully true.”
In fact, Parker is calling for Palin to drop out of the race so that McCain can choose a respectable running mate: “Only Palin can save McCain, her party, and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first. Do it for your country.”
Now a prominent conservative and one-time supporter of Palin is questioning whether the Alaska governor should just stay at home with the kids. Maybe that’s sexist, too. And if questioning Palin is sexist, count other prominent conservatives such as David Brooks, George Will and David Frum as male chauvinists. Their columns all make arguments similar to mine, but in much more well-developed and well-argued forms.
David Brooks writes, “Sarah Palin has many virtues. If you wanted someone to destroy a corrupt establishment, she’d be your woman. But the constructive act of governance is another matter. She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.”
The noisy backlash against Palin from Democrats and leftists over the past several weeks has been possibly noisier than would be typical because of the rush to dissect such an unknown quantity. But make no mistake, Democrats and liberals fear Sarah Palin. They fear her mile-wide, inch-deep appeal to varying demographics, they fear her stance on the issues and they fear that she could very well end up being the 45th President of the United States should McCain manage to win the election.
From a more detached perspective, I’m just deeply unimpressed with Palin. The choice was purely tactical and poorly made, and nothing that has been revealed about her in the past month has either endeared me to her experiences or convinced me that she’s capable of doing the job. Quite the opposite, in fact. Perhaps her performance at next Thursday’s debate will be poised, polished and informed. Perhaps not.
Shortly after Palin was selected, columnist David Frum wrote, “this is the future of the Republican party you are looking at: a future in which national security has bumped down the list of priorities behind abortion politics, gender politics, and energy politics. Ms. Palin is a bold pick, and probably a shrewd one. It’s not nearly so clear that she is a responsible pick, or a wise one.”
It’s no wonder that she scares Democrats, and unfortunately for the McCain campaign, her fear factor is growing to levels that frighten more than just the opposition.
Saturday, September 06, 2008
Saturday, January 05, 2008
WHY I’M NOT SOLD ON BARACK OBAMA
Even before all of the votes were tallied in Thursday night’s Iowa caucuses, it was clear that my candidate – Delaware Senator Joe Biden – wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, how completely his candidacy had been overshadowed by the star power of rival Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards was evident immediately as the night began. The legitimate second-tier Democratic candidates – Biden, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd – were unable to garner any significant support. Biden and Dodd dropped out of the race that night; Richardson’s campaign will continue, but at two percent of the vote in Iowa, his fourth-place finish was far behind Obama, Edwards and Clinton, who took first, second and third, respectively.
I’m convinced that Biden’s candidacy failed because the media never gave it the attention it deserved, instead focusing on the top-tier candidates who are frontrunners from the beginning solely because of their celebrity. It could be argued that Biden never generated enough support on the ground to make his campaign worth covering, but that sort of cyclical thinking has given us a post-Iowa atmosphere in which the media, not the people, has narrowed the field. They narrowed the field through their selective coverage; they narrowed the field through heavy top-tier focuses in the debates. MSNBC qualifies as the worst offender in this campaign season, giving Biden, Dodd, Kucinich and Richardson combined less than 30 minutes of on-air time in a two-hour debate held at Drexel University on October 30. Tim Russert, in an obvious effort to trip up Hillary Clinton, directed nearly every one of his questions toward her, leading to the obligatory response from Obama, a rebuttal from Clinton and an answer from Edwards. (Russert was also criticized for various misleading questions aimed at Clinton.)
Biden’s loss certainly can’t be chalked up to a lack of experience. He had the longest and most impressive resume of any candidate in either party. He was an obvious choice for me; the Bush presidency has shown what type of government we get when we vote for a combination of inexperience and an inability to work with those who hold opposing views. Biden’s extraordinary experience in matters both foreign and domestic would have been immensely valuable at a time when we need leaders with strong backgrounds to speak openly and honestly with the American people. And after 36 years in the Senate, Biden has worked – and worked effectively – with every major Congressional player on Capitol Hill. Hillary Clinton champions her experience. Barack Obama cites his ability to affect change. In Joe Biden, voters had the best of both worlds, but his underexposed, and thus underfunded, campaign just couldn’t find any traction in an arena dominated by celebrity.
Over the past year, I’ve been highly critical of one Democratic frontrunner in particular: Barack Obama. Besides a startling lack of experience (which I’ll get to later), I’ve felt that the celebrity that Obama wields, and thus the ease with which he’s been able to conduct a national campaign, is quite simply undeserved. Obama’s rise to the national scene came in 2004 when he spoke at the Democratic National Convention; the media instantly dubbed him a Kennedyesque figure. To be fair, Obama can give a rousing speech. To be equally fair, the Manhattan High School debate team can give impressive speeches, too. Obama’s reputation continued to grow after the 2004 election in Illinois, where proponents ignore that his wide margin of victory can be credited to more than his magnetic personality. Alan Keyes jumped into the race late after Jack Ryan’s scandal-induced withdraw from the campaign; plus, ultra-conservative Alan Keyes was an out-of-state candidate running in heavily Democratic Illinois. Obama’s victory was no surprise.
At the time, I remember thinking that if Obama played his cards right and distinguished himself in the Senate, he could be a powerful presidential candidate someday. I had no idea that he’d begin running for that position almost immediately after entering the Senate.
Obama has consistently run second in the race behind Hillary Clinton, a position which I also feel is incredibly undeserved given some of the other candidates for the Democratic nomination. And now, after what was admittedly an impressive victory in the Iowa caucuses (38 percent of the vote, with Edwards garnering 30 percent and Clinton taking 29 percent), Obama has been deemed the Democratic frontrunner and the man to beat for the nomination. Many are now touting Obama’s inevitability, although anyone who honestly thinks that the race for the nomination is over simply does not understand or appreciate the fluidity and unpredictability of the primary structure. But he’ll likely continue to do well, promoting himself as the “candidate of change,” and his victory in Iowa has only increased his media exposure. At this point, I hope that increased media exposure means increased scrutiny, as well. Up to this point, Barack Obama has gotten a free pass from all major media outlets.
The most obvious reason for Obama’s media celebrity is his race. Though he’s 50 percent white, Obama has the potential to become America’s first black president. That’s an inspiring story, to be sure, but not one on which I’d base my support. I’m a bit more concerned about legitimate political issues rather than the strength of someone’s back-story. The media is shamelessly using race as a major factor to promote Obama. Don’t believe me? OK, let’s pretend that Barack Obama was a white man named, oh, let’s say Stan Johnson. Let’s say Stan Johnson gives the exact same speeches as Obama, has the exact same experience and takes the exact same stances on issues. Would Stan Johnson be anywhere on the national media’s radar? Very, very doubtful. Race is certainly no reason to vote against a candidate, but it is absolutely no reason to vote for a candidate either. Voters need to move beyond the “choice” that the media is attempting to ordain for them and take a hard look at Obama’s experience and what he can bring to the table.
National media outlets, of course, should be taking the lead into investigating Obama’s record and his resonance with voters, but they’re not. In fact, after the Iowa caucuses, several pundits on CNN mentioned how Obama’s campaign in the late-summer and early-fall was “boring,” “too academic” and “over voters’ heads.” But did you once hear them talk about that in the late-summer or early-fall? Absolutely not. They’re far too reluctant to openly criticize or investigate a candidate whom they created.
Obama’s experience is greatly lacking. A few years in the Illinois state senate and a three-year U.S. Senate career, half of which has been spent running for president, is hardly what I would call impressive credentials, especially in a field featuring other candidates like Chris Dodd, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson.
What concerns me the most, however, is the oft-cited theme of Obama’s campaign: change. He says he can change things in Washington. He says he can make Democrats and Republicans work together. He says that he can eliminate the negative tone and the rampant partisanship. In other words, he’s claiming to be a uniter, not a divider. That concerns me for two reasons:
1) 1) I’ve heard those lines before. In 2000, another relatively inexperienced presidential candidate jumped into the national spotlight and claimed that he was a different kind of politician. Eight years later, does anyone still believe that George W. Bush’s scant experience in Texas state politics was adequate to prepare him for Washington, D.C.? Does anyone still believe that George W. Bush has bipartisanship in his blood?
2) 2) If Barack Obama is going to be an agent of change, I would like to see proof of his success in other venues. And if that experience itself is lacking, the Presidency of the United States is hardly the place to let him test his gut feelings about his abilities to affect change.
It would be unfair to make outright comparisons between Barack Obama and George W. Bush, but one can certainly make the case that bipartisan success in the Texas statehouse was no indicator of whether or not Bush could succeed in the White House. Obama’s tenure in the Illinois state senate presents similar ambiguity.
Obama’s campaign themes of “hope” and “change” may be inspirational and have the ability to fire up a crowd, but there should be some beef behind them. It’s no longer good enough to hope for a better government. It’s no longer good enough to believe that a different personality type can bring the type of necessary change to Washington, D.C. We need a candidate who can rally voters with honest facts, evidence and logic, not just slick speeches and slogans. In his recently released book “Independents Day,” Lou Dobbs says the following:
“Even worse than scandal, to my mind, is that our political discourse today relies on guesswork and public shouting in order to achieve an ed. Hard evidence, data, and facts are given short shrift in every branch of the government. Logic is ignored in favor of faith and beliefs. Gut feelings and hoped-for results direct our public policy. … The American people must demand that our elected officials and our federal government rigorously research the facts of each issue, the impact of all public policy options and choices, and replace what are now decades of policy rationalization with reason and rational governance.”
Perhaps Obama is a person who would direct public policy with logic and reason; perhaps he could bring us rational governance. After all, the media did belatedly criticize his campaign as “academic.” But to this point, he has not proven that he is capable of governing as such. His entire campaign revolves around “hope.” But the hope for what? Someone other than Bush? That will happen regardless of who is elected. Maybe the hope for a Democratic administration? The party in power, though, doesn’t matter if they slide back into the same ways of governing as we are currently seeing. “Hope” – it’s inspiring, it’s uplifting and it’s horribly vague, and through this campaign, Barack Obama has not shown me that he’s capable of the very change that he claims he can bring. He’s shown me that he can give rousing speeches. He’s shown me that he can stumble through debates (another weakness of his that the media has ignored). He’s shown me that he can nail political slogans and win elections. But he hasn’t shown me that he can be effective in office.
Obama supporters: without having to resort to visiting his campaign Web site, tell me one piece of legislation that the Senate passed because of Obama’s ability to bring opposing sides together. Give me an example of a program that he sponsored that truly changed the way business is done in Washington. Show me some concrete examples of his power and personal influence among his colleagues in the Senate. Other candidates talk about their experience. I was able to name a dozen things that Joe Biden had done that were of significant impact to the country – examples of his leadership, examples of his distinction in the Senate, examples of his ability to bring people together.
Obama could potentially win my support, but right now, I’m much more inclined to support Hillary Clinton or John Edwards … two candidates who at least seem to be able to point to legitimate experiences in their political careers that will benefit their presidencies. What, besides slogans, can Obama supporters sell me on? So he’s the candidate of hope. So he says he can bring change. Tell me why. Prove to me that he is the candidate to do what he says needs to be done. If he is indeed the inevitable nominee, I need more than easily manufactured and regurgitated political slogans to win my vote. I want to ensure that Obama is more than simply a media construct. Thus far, I am incredibly unconvinced of that.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN
Illinois Senator Barack Obama, candidate for the Democratic nomination for president and media darling, is in Iowa this week touting his commitment to government reform. His accusations are broad, his solutions obscure and his appeal undoubtedly rooted more deeply in personality than political positions. But who can help but agree with what he says?
Obama's generalized speeches, many of which focus on his ability to unite opposing sides and to get things done in the corrupt cesspool that is Washington, D.C., have won over not only the soundbyte-obsessed media (which has repeatedly admitted that second-tier candidates are winning the Democratic debates on issues while still narrowing the options for victorious candidates to the two frontrunners), but also policy experts who have bought into his "uniter" rhetoric.
"What impressed me about him was his ability in working with people of the opposite party," Mike Lawrence, director of the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, told the Washington Post after Obama's most recent appearance in Iowa in which he warned against a "second gilded age."
While Obama continues to dazzle the cameras with his charming style and win over voters with well-polished stump speeches, those who are paying attention to the inexperienced senator are consistently amazed that his sweeping generalities and values-based politicking are able to win over so much support in a time when so many issues demand specific and detailed attention. Case in point: Obama's call for reform in Iowa.
"If we are serious about having real change in this country then we have to start putting America's interests ahead of the special interests that are blocking our efforts to create universal health care, an energy policy that focuses on renewable fuels and rural investments," he said. "We have to break the stranglehold that the lobbyists and special interests have on our democracy."
Even though Obama did get into some specific ways he would enact ethics reform, none amounted to any more than lip service to his audience -- "I'll stand for this," and "I'll make it clear they can't do this," etc. Calls for lobbying and ethics reform are, of course, nothing new, and anything substantive would establish independent oversight of both Congress and the White House, a move that politicians rejected in 2006.
But beyond Barack's weak call for reform is a much larger trend: an unsettling inability to address the specifics of any major problem facing the country today. While Obama is probably genuinely intelligent enough to answer direct questions regarding issues, he prefers to spend much of his campaign focused on themes such as "getting things done in Washington," bipartisanship, changing the tone in American politics and representing values inherent to all Americans. And through all of this, the better-prepared and more experienced candidates are getting trounced in the polls
It all sounds strangely familiar: Obama is inexperienced politician who claims that his real work has been at the community level "bringing people together." He claims to have the cure for what ails the entire country, and without asking too many questions, most of the mainstream media has already promoted him to frontrunner status. If it wasn't for Hillary Clinton, he'd be the unchallenged leader in the Democratic primaries.
Around this time eight years ago, a relatively inexperienced Texas governor by the name of George W. Bush was riding a wave of popularity to the top of the GOP primary contest before it even got started. He claimed to be a "compassionate conservative," focusing on broad values (and a few tried-and-true Republican talking points) rather than specific issues. He claimed to be a "uniter, not a divider." He said he was going to change the tone in Washington; he was going to bring people together and end an era of bitter partisanship. He said his would be the most ethical administration in recent history. He said he would get things done and listen to the American people. Eight years later, we know the outcome; we've seen how partisanship has exploded out of control, how corruption has infiltrated every level of government and how a politician who toes the party line and speaks in generalizations as if the American public were children can destroy what remnants of faith we may have had in our government.
It would be unfair to compare Barack Obama to George Bush on specifics, but given that they both fancy sweeping generalizations, I'll give Obama the same courtesy. Simply put, this time around, we've got to have more than a figurehead. Warm, fuzzy speeches and a likable personality just won't do it anymore. We've got to have experience. We've got to have substance, not style. Obama, who has repeatedly pledged to bring a "new tone" to the political debate, has already begun viciously criticizing his top primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, calling her foreign policy stances into question. With another 15 months before the election, this sort of sniping is only the beginning. Mr. New Tone will be Mr. Business-As-Usual within a few months.
There are certainly those who claim that Obama is different ... his personality, his ideals, his desire ... different. Perhaps. But at one point we all thought that George Bush represented something different, as well. Have we learned nothing?
There is a slew of very experienced candidates vying to be president. The ones who will really bring something to the table are those who level with the American people. They won't comfort you by pledging to work hand-in-hand with bitter political enemies. They won't coddle you with speeches about how they share your values. What they will do is bring substance to the debate and real solutions for our many problems. The media and the American people need to be giving all of these so-called "second-tier" candidates a second look. Don't be fooled by style again. Let substance be your guide in 2008.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
I tried to use a Facebook application called "Take a Stand" that would have posted my thoughts on a wide variety of political issues. The application never worked, so I'm switching to Blogger so I can get these down somewhere.
Party: Unaffiliated (my political compass points toward "populist"); both major parties are corrupt organizations with agendas that consist of attaining/retaining power, giving hand-outs to loyalists and duping the public into believing that they truly care about us. Political issues are rarely black-and-white matters; unfortunately, the two major parties have reduced the American political culture to a pathetic sporting event.
Strong border security: fence off the entire southern border and bring troops home from Iraq for guard duty. Unless you're willing to have an open-door policy in your home and allow anyone who is in search of "a better life" (regardless of what that may be) to enter, do not advocate an open-border policy. I'm a pretty trusting person, but I like people to knock on my door, introduce themselves and state their business before coming into my house.
Quicker path to citizenship: No one should have to wait a decade to become a legal citizen. Make the application process less bureaucratic and more immigrant-friendly.
Mandatory English schooling: You're welcome to keep your native language; however, you can't deny the benefit of knowing English in the United States. Offer all immigrants applying for citizenship government-funded language courses (taught by the military) to instruct them in the basics of English.
Abortion: Against in nearly all cases, including rape and incest; however, I don't support overturning Roe v. Wade due to the complications such a ruling would present to doctors performing abortions that are necessary for medical reasons.
School Prayer: Against; a student should never be barred from privately or unobtrusively expressing his or her faith, but no mandatory public expression of religion should be allowed in public schools.
Welfare: Barring extraordinary circumstances, generally opposed to any long-term government support; welfare-to-work programs can be successful at giving individuals a helping hand as opposed to a crutch.
Many welfare recipients who are unable to return to work due to disability and/or lack of education that would keep them locked into the service industry would benefit if U.S. companies would rely more on insourcing as opposed to outsourcing, as in the case of call centers and customer support lines, both of which are low-wage jobs that can now be done from practically anywhere.
Healthcare: Support basic universal coverage; currently, the pharmaceutical and insurance industries have a horrible monopoly over health care that excludes tens of millions from even the most basic of coverage and makes prescription drugs unaffordable for millions more. Coverage should be universal for U.S. citizens and the pharmaceutical industry should be regulated through price controls.
War in Iraq: Opposed; there was no 9/11 link to Iraq and no reason to invade in 2003. Now we are stuck in a no-win situation: if we stay, we're bound to continue losing troops and angering the Iraqi people, but a withdrawal would abandon our responsibility to a country we invaded, a people we upset and a government we put into place. There is no easy way out, although I support partitioning Iraq into three separate zones with one weak, overarching federal government and strong state governments for the Shi'ites, the Sunnis and the Kurds.
Capital Punishment: Against; there are certainly crimes that, if committed against me or members of my family, would lead me to support the death penalty, but justice must be dispassionate. We as a society have the means to contain violent offenders. Laws should be strengthened and/or enforced in order to ensure maximum punishment, but no crime justifies taking a human life.
Gun Control: Support strict registration and detailed background checks, as well as requiring manufacturers to include trigger locks with all handgun purchases. Also support "conceal and carry" laws that allow responsible gun owners to protect themselves. Violent crime or attempted crime involving firearms should result in harsher penalties.
Gay Rights: Support full and equal rights for the GLBT community, including civil unions and all rights granted to heterosexual couples. Hate crimes legislation should be expanded to encompass crimes against sexual minorities (although I have issues with "hate crimes" legislation to begin with), and sexual minorities should be allowed to serve in the military without having to hide their sexual orientation.
Marijuana Legalization: Opposed to legalization.
Global Warming: Global warming exists and is being perpetuated by our production of CO2 emissions and reliance on fossil fuels. The U.S. government should join with other nations in pledging to lower emissions. Automakers should comply with higher fuel economy standards that greatly increase mpg and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil (and oil in general). The U.S. should begin large-scale development of nuclear energy facilities and fund extensive research of hydrogen fuel cells and comparable alternative energy forms. Weak, baby-step energy research such as wind or solar power should be scrapped in favor of existing technologies that have much greater potential.
Cuba: Normal relations should be pursued immediately; economic sanctions should be removed and normal trade relations should commence.
Stem Cell Research: Support; while the Bush administration got the ball rolling by approving federal funding for research on existing stem cell lines in 2001, the door needs to be opened for research to continue on additional lines. Being "pro-life" means choosing life in all instances, and we can use stem cell research to potentially save hundreds of thousands.
The embryos themselves, while the beginnings of life, typically face two fates: they will be used in research, or they will be thrown away. Given the choices, I would rather sacrifice a handful of cells for the greater good rather than waste them out of stubbornness and sacrifice human beings whose lives may depend on the knowledge gained from stem cell research.
Flag Burning: Flag burning, while despicable, is a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. Given the ambiguous definition of a flag, no constitutional amendment should ever be passed that restricts that expression. For more on my thoughts on flag burning, click here.
Censorship: Censorship of media and entertainment should be minimal, although ideally, self-censorship and regular discussions of what is publicly acceptable would be a part of any society void of censorship. Adults should be able to freely purchase pornography, and, given a sensible ratings system and considerable respect for societal norms, artists and entertainers should be free to express themselves in any manner that they see fit.
Right to Die: Do not support right to die laws; living wills should be strongly recommended (even required through potential universal health care) in order to clarify DNR wishes in case of severe injury or death, but no one individual or organization should be allowed to forcibly take another's life in non-life threatening situations regardless of consent.
Foreign Policy: Somewhat of an isolationist; global trade and interdependency is unavoidable, but U.S. corporations should attempt to keep jobs in-house. The United States needs to be a global leader on issues such as health, the environment and poverty rather than a military interventionist. The global war on terror should continue through a stronger push for human intelligence in U.S. intelligence agencies, and we should work more closely with our allies to ensure that they are carrying out effective anti-terror policies around the world without risking all of our own assets. Allies around the world must step up and do their parts to guarantee global security so that the United States can turn much of the energy and assets currently spent on foreign ventures toward a) domestic concerns and b) bridge-building foreign aid.
Media Bias: The so-called "liberal media bias" does not exist; many U.S. media sources may trend slightly to the left, but much of the reporting and non-editorial journalism is quite reasonable and fair. The most biased mainstream media forces are conservative pillars like FOX News, the Washington Times and talk radio. Though much of what is presented in and on these sources is opinion, they are so popular because they tell a certain segment of viewers exactly what they want to hear.
All U.S. citizens should challenge themselves to take in several different media sources that stretch across the entire spectrum of political thought. If you watch FOX News regularly, follow it up with a healthy dose of the New York Times' opinion page. The variety of points of view makes readers, viewers and listeners all the more informed and gives them true choices and information on which to base their opinions.
Social Security: Given the low return and slim changes that this so-called safety net will even be in existence when I'm in need of it, companies that meet certain size and revenue benchmarks should provide guaranteed retirement plans and employees should be able to opt in and opt out of Social Security.
Minimum Wage: There should be a minimum wage scale for different types of employees. Adults (especially parents -- couples or singles) trying to earn a living off of minimum wage should be in the highest possible tier, as well as students working in order to pay for school. The lowest tier would be dependents such as high school students who are working simply for extra money and not in order to pay for essential services. Both businesses and those who need a higher minimum wage would benefit from such a system. Wiretapping: Intelligence agencies should obtain warrants prior to tapping any communications devices or conducting any other form of domestic surveillance.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
MICHAEL RICHARDS AND OUR NATIONAL REEXAMINATION OF RACISM
"I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream -- a dream yet unfulfilled."
-Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963
Martin Luther King, Jr. was truly a visionary. His ideology and philosophy ring as true today as they did 43 years ago when he made his famous "I have a dream" speech in Washington, D.C. And his dream is just as relevant and necessary today as it was then, as evidenced by recent events sparked by none other than a sitcom star.
Michael Richard's racially-charged outburst directed at hecklers who interrupted his comedy routine at the Laugh Factory has been well publicized, triggering a massive public backlash against the former Seinfeld actor, reopening racist wounds that much of the politically correct-minded public had confined to the darkest recesses of their memories, and prompting a much-needed examination of the one word that has caused so much turmoil -- "nigger."
A regrettable consequence of the media storm that followed Richards' tirade was that the character that made him infamous, Kramer, is now forever linked with his unfortunate two-minute rant. Because Richards is known for little else, the media irresponsibly ran headlines declaring "Kramer a racist." But not only does that wrongly brand a fictional character as something Seinfeld's writers obviously never meant him to be, but it avoids thrusting true responsibility on Richards -- the man, the comedian, the actor who made the comments. His angry words weren't part of an act; they were a terrible outburst from a real individual. The media should have reported it as such instead of initially confusing the man with a character he played. As a big fan of Seinfeld, I'm sad to see that the media's careless reporting may harm a show that was brilliantly written, funny and poignant as well as packed with great characters, made possible by great actors.
But on to the real issue at hand: Michael Richards should be ashamed. He should be embarrased. He should be reeling with a guilty conscience and make every effort to apologize and make amends. He has and will continue to undoubtedly suffer from the almost universal outrage following his epithet-laden response to a couple of apparently rowdy audience members who happened to be black, in which he yelled (and as a fair warning, this particular blog entry contains much cruder language than I generally use in writing):
"Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a f***ing fork up your ass," an obvious reference to lynchings.
Richards continued, "You can talk, you can talk, you're brave now motherf**ker. Throw his ass out. He's a nigger! He's a nigger! He's a nigger! A nigger, look, there's a nigger!"
It was at that point that Richards completely shocked and offended his audience and, from what he has said since the incident, himself. In subsequent apologies, he has seemed confused and dismayed by what occurred -- such a blunt verbal assault is at the very least a guaranteed way to stifle a career. Hopefully upon reflection, Richards is horrified by the very power and venom of the words themselves.
I've read a lot about the incident and heard pundit after pundit analyze Richards' reaction to the heckling and subsequent apologies on The Late Show with David Letterman and Jesse Jackson's radio program. I've looked at op-eds and editorials that condemn or defend "Kramer," as the media still insists on referring to him, and I've thought quite a bit about the whole situation myself ... both before and after his initial apology.
I'm enraged with news analysts who prattle on about his apology not being "sincere enough." Granted, Richards' appearance on Letterman with fellow actor Jerry Seinfeld was stilted and awkward, even garnering laughs from a crowd confused by the whole situation. And given the impact of such a powerful diatribe, we do expect a lot to make up for it. However, no one truly knows what's in Richards' heart and in his mind; no one is qualified to judge whether or not an apology is sincere or, based on this incident, Richards is a racist.
I do take his apology, however awkward and inappropriate it may have seemed, as genuine; and no, I don't believe he is a racist in spite of his harsh overuse of the word "nigger." A core definition of racism is "a person with a prejudiced belief that one race is superior to others." Although he howled comments about lynching and disrespecting the "white man," I honestly don't believe he truly thinks that way. Rather, I think he was angry ... angry enough to play a trump card in a back-and-forth that got carried away. Allusions to lynching, racial superiority and the repeated use of "nigger" were fired off in an attempt to shut up his heckler and win the wrestling match for control of the stage.
Without defending his actions, I can say that stand-up comedy has got to be a difficult job. Other performers are subject to public scruity, but none are as isolated and vulnerable as the comedian, alone on stage. I can understand his anger -- on the absolute most basic level, he was attempting to do his job and was not allowed to do it by someone who disagreed with his approach. How many of us would respond poorly if someone consistently berated us as we worked? I know I would. If someone "heckled" me as I worked, I'd get upset and respond angrily, quite possibly to the point of using racial slurs -- not as an affirmation of belief, but as an ill-considered defense mechanism.
And I believe that's what Richards did. He responded with the most powerful verbal defense he could come up with in order to silence his critics. And as much as I disagree with his repeated shouts of "nigger," I equally disagree with (presumably) the heckler's angry response of "cracker-ass motherf**ker." The phrase "two wrongs don't make a right" was never more relevant ... but the heckler responded out of anger just as Richards did, firing off just as much of a racial slur in response.
Michael Richards was angry. He felt he was backed into a corner, and he fired back with the oral equivalent of weapons of mass destruction.
Unfortunately for him, stand-up comedians are generally expected to be able to deal with a certain amount of abuse from the audience. He handled it poorly by throwing around racist remarks in an unrestrained way, and now he is suffering the consequences.
Although he's probably damaged his reputation beyond repair and offended the majority of our sensibilities, Michael Richards may have done us all a favor by dragging the issue of racism back into the spotlight. Many Americans choose to ignore what amounts to a seedy underbelly of racial consiousness in this country. Racism and xenophobic attitudes are much more prevalent than popular culture likes to recognize, and it's not a black-and-white issue ... racist attitudes from all races and against all races is surprisingly popular. Political correctness usually keeps it buried just under the surface, but it also prevents us from taking an honest look at a prominant problem -- meltdowns like Richards' thrust the issue to the forefront once again.
From a terrible explosion of hate-laden words may come positive results. And much of the work that can be accomplished as a result of this incident centers around the word "nigger."
Since the Civil Rights era and a rise in the number of black entertainers, one ubiquitously puzzling issue is "nigger." Randall Kennedy's aptly titled book, Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, looks at the relatively harmless beginnings of the word, how it grew into such a detestable racial insult and why African-American pop culture embraced it in a post-Civil Rights world.
Paul Mooney, a flamboyant black comedian who regularly sprinkled "nigger" throughout his act, has said (in agreement with Kennedy's assertions) that black entertainers took the word and made regular use of it in order to diffuse its meaning. Black people could regularly refer to each other as "nigger" or the more accepted "nigga" and feel empowered by using it in a friendly way, taking the harmful meaning away and transforming it into a term of familiarity.
But the nation remained confused. "Nigger" still had a racist, abhorrant meaning, and white people (or any other race, for that matter) could not use it in any way that would be seen as socially acceptable. Black entertainment became increasingly popular across all demographic groups, so "nigger" remained alive and well in the national consiousness. But how could a race of people own a word? Why did keeping its existence alive and so prominent in public empower black individuals?
The idea of one race being able to acceptably (and liberally) use a word while keeping others from doing the same really makes no sense ... insert any other racial slur and see how ridiculous it sounds. White people don't run around calling each other "cracker" or "honky," and I don't know that I've ever seen any Latinos throwing around the word "spic" in casual conversation. It doesn't make any sense for other races, and despite an attempt to diffuse meaning, it doesn't make any sense for black people to do the same.
Prominent black leaders agree, and even some who made "nigger" a part of their vocabulary -- like Paul Mooney -- have changed their ways in light of the Michael Richards incident. Mooney now admits that black entertainers' consistent use of the word over the last 30+ years has seared it into the minds of Americans, perpetuating a word that, if not for their attempts to make it a regular and inoffensive term, would be remembered only negatively. Now "nigger" is everywhere -- music, movies, stages and in the vocabularies of youth across the country. Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, Mooney and others are now advocating eliminating the word from all forms of entertainment.
While I disagree with Jesse Jackson's assertion that "nigger" is "unprotected by the First Amendment," I do think that some words should fade into history. Our free speech allows us to say nearly anything, but a consistently applied societal standard spurred by a continuing intellectual evolution can make us all opposed to the use of derogatory terms like "nigger." And "cracker," "kike," and others.
Do you think that Dr. King stood on the National Mall 43 years ago and fought for equality so that one race could own a word and have yet another manufactured superiority above another race? Of course not. That's a message Bill Cosby has preached for years.
An all-out effort by our nation's leadership (and yes, that means entertainers, who are so public and so influential) to eliminate the confusion and brand all slurs as negative will only make us a better, more well-connected society. We need to work to eliminate the most negative and obvious slurs as well as take back words that have had their meanings twisted; for example, "Jew" should no longer be a common insult as it is with much of today's youth.
We're all racist to a degree; it's a genetic reality that can only be overcome by stimulated educational growth and expansion of one national philosophy of brotherhood and equality. That starts by addressing the most basic of interracial conflicts. It may well start with taking a long, hard look at "nigger."
While Mooney has taken the right step in swearing off using the n-word, he and I still differ in how we wish to be defined. In an MSNBC interview this evening, Mooney said that he didn't want to be defined by the n-word, but he wanted to be seen as a proud and successful black man. While I applaud his change in opinion, I hope that one day he can be defined as a proud and successful man. I hope that each individual can be judged on his own merits, his attitude, his personality and his generosity toward his fellow man. Race should play no role in an assessment of an individual. I think Dr. King would agree:
"I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream -- a dream yet unfulfilled."
We've got a long road to travel to eliminate racism in this country. It may well not happen in my lifetime. But perhaps we all will have Michael Richards to thank some day for waking us up and giving us an extra push in the right direction.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Please don't forget to vote tomorrow, November 7. It's embarrassing that there are more than 100 countries in the world that surpass us in voter turnout. When all was said and done, only around 65% of adults eligible to vote (that's eligible to vote
, not just all those over 18) actually did so in 2004. That's actually a pretty high turnout, considering most midterm elections draw far less interest. Many of our recent presidential elections have drawn closer to 50% turnout. It's hard for me to find people my age who are actually willing to put forth the effort and take the time to vote, especially in midterms.
Tomorrow may be different.
I voted nearly three weeks ago, on October 18 -- the first day that early voting opened in Ellsworth County. As it turns out, I should have done a little more preparation before hand, but most of the choices were very clear:Governor: Kathleen Sebelius
-- A powerful, popular and effective two-term Democratic governor is almost unheard of in Kansas, but Sebelius will easily win her race against Republican Jim Barnett tomorrow. And she deserves to. There are certainly issues with which I disagree with the Governor on, but overall, she's done a slick job at cutting government waste, keeping the Kansas economy going strong and, yes, keeping our taxes at exactly the same level they were when Bill Graves left office in 2003.
Despite popular rhetoric, the Kansas Democrats have not "raised taxes," nor have they even threatened to, save for when the Kansas Supreme Court forced the do-nothing Kansas legislature back into session last year to adequately fund education. If your taxes have gone up, they're either your local sales or property taxes, and you have an over-zealous Republican legislature to thank for that. Johnson County rakes in the revenue from sales and property taxes and can more than adequately fund all of their services, but when state income taxes were cut late in the Graves administration, it ended up being the rural counties that suffered because their sales/property tax revenue can't
fund all of their services.
More than anything, Sebelius is to be admired for her genuine effort to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans rather than opposing them simply because their of different political stripes. She's been instrumental in a resurgence of moderate Republicanism in Kansas, and a record number of disaffected Republicans have left the GOP for the Democrats thanks to her. After all, it's hard to stick with a party that calls you a "traitor" or a "turncoat" simply for being willing to compromise on issues ... that's why I'm happily an unaffiliated voter. No party, no platform, and no problem holding everyone's feet to the fire.
Forget Hillary -- this is where the Democrats should look for a female presidential nominee in 2008.US Representative: Jerry Moran
-- Despite being in a real anti-incumbent, anti-GOP mood, I absolutely couldn't vote against our First District US Rep. Jerry Moran. Why? Jerry isn't
a blind supporter of the Republican agenda; he's disagreed with the leadership on numerous issues when the GOP's plans don't line up with the needs of ordinary rural Kansans. Unlike other legislators around the state (and nation), Jerry makes an enormous effort to meet with constituents.
As far as I know, he's been home every weekend since he was first sent to Washington in 1997. That's not saying much this year, since Congress will spend less than 100 days total in DC, but Jerry is out there meeting with people in all 69 of the Kansas counties he represents. He's a good, down-to-earth, honest politician who would still remember my name if I ran into him, and I haven't seen him for years. Name recognition may not be an indicator of how good of a legislator you are, but it means a lot to the lowly voter.Attorney General: Paul Morrison
-- Phill Kline's advertisement that digs up a 15-year-old dismissed sexual harassment against Paul Morrison is enough for me to vote against him (Kline). I know it's not necessarily en vogue
anymore, but what ever happened to elected officials trying to get reelected based on what they had done in office?
Kline's got nothing save for embarrassing failures and questionable searches into private records. So what's he do? Throws mud, of course! Morrison is exactly right about Kline -- he's playing gutter politics and is nothing but a bottom-feeder. I fully expect a new attorney general by January.State Board of Education: Jack Wempe
-- Jack is the moderate answer to the conservatives that have repeatedly made education in Kansas the butt of national jokes. Kansans are proving this year that we're tired of ultra-conservatives forcing their personal religious believes into the public educational process under the guise of "science."
Six-day creationism no more belongs in a public school classroom than molecular biology belongs at the pulpit. If concerned parents are really so concerned that their children receive a good religious education, perhaps they should take it upon themselves to teach it. If we allowed one religious teaching into science classrooms, we'd have to allow them all, melding philosophy, history and anthropology all into a class where they don't belong.
Kansans are fed up with the ridiculous pseudo-intellectual posturing of the likes of Connie Morris and Kathy Martin -- the conservatives will lose the majority on the Board of Education tomorrow, and the moderates will restore sound science to our classrooms.
That's it for our big elections. In other races, I voted Lynn Jenkins
for State Treasurer
, Ron Thornburgh
for Secretary of State
, Sandy Praeger
for Insurance Commissioner
and Josh Svaty
for State Representative
My only regret on the ballot was voting for Al Oller
for county commission. I picked him for a stupid
reason -- one that I would berate other people for. You see, Al Oller sent me a postcard. So I voted for him over Lavel Heitschmidt
. The day after I voted, the Ellsworth County Independent-Reporter carried an interview with Oller.
For a Democrat, he took a staunchly conservative line on issues like state income taxes and immigration -- things that a county commissioner would never, ever encounter in his job. He quoted some off-the-wall numbers about taxes and overall showed that he was unprepared for the job -- after all, he's only going to be on the county commission if he wins, not in the White House.
That was my one mistake. Otherwise, I'm completely comfortable in my choices and think I picked winners all around.
I'll be watching the national elections closely. Six years ago when I first registered to vote, I never would have believed that I'd be rooting against the GOP. But the Republicans deserve to lose. They've been wrong or completely inactive on issue after issue after issue. I don't trust that the Democrats will do much better, but at the very least, they deserve a shot -- it took the Democrats over 40 years to become stupid, corrupt and inept, and they were booted out of power in 1994. It only took the Republicans 12 years to become the same type of party, and the bitterness and dirty politics that have been featured in this campaign are largely products of a nasty GOP fighting to keep control.
Losing an election? Don't worry -- the GOP teaches us that we can incite racial hatred (Ford v. Corker), try to label our opponent a deviant because of incredibly selective passages taken from fiction novels (Webb v. Allen) or make broad medical generalizations about a rival's health because you don't like his opinion (Michael J. Fox v. Rush Limbaugh).
Perhaps a few years out of power will give the GOP the perspective it needs to become an active, effective and progressive party once again. For now, they deserve nothing but a complete loss.
I won't make predictions -- the media totally flubbed their early predicitions in 2004, and this time around, I'm not calling it till I've seen actual numbers. However, you can expect that I made the right picks on my ballot (with the exception of Oller) ... don't forget to vote. Please.