In humble attempt at casting this in the tradition of Socrates, a (slightly altered) quote:

"The unexamined vote is not worth casting."

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Rich Experience of an Obama

*This post was written prior to Obama's primary and general election wins.

I left off my last post on how we need to consider the quality of Mrs. Clinton's experience with a question about her opponent: Does Barack have experience enough to do the job? A New York Times piece on the subject, titled “Most Experience or Enough Experience?” discusses this question. It looks at Nixon’s long experience, and the simple fact that his version of the “experience argument,” captured in the image to the left, did not translate to a great presidency (photo credit Hulton Archive/Getty Images). The article goes on to point out that the question is whether Obama has passed the necessary threshold of experience (even if it does not include Hillary’s years in the White House).

In my judgment, he has. His experience includes jobs as: a legislator (for 8 years in the Illinois Senate, 3 and a half in the U.S. Senate—more elected years than Hillary, I would note); a civil rights attorney handling voting rights, employment and housing cases (for 4 years); a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago (for 11 years); and a community organizer in inner-city Chicago (for 3 years). He studied international relations at Columbia University and law at Harvard. As the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, he came in to what was a divided group of individuals and worked with them to build consensus and change the attitude of the group. His commonly-noted background—a Kenyan father and white, Kansas mother—is deeper than is captured in the often-quick mention it gets in the news. In Dreams from my Father, he writes about the internal struggle he lived through as he sought to make sense of the racial dynamics that were apparent in the alternately white and black environments he inhabited (from his time living with his white grandparents, to his time discussing black politics while living in Los Angeles, and so on). Later, after graduating from Columbia, in New York City, he would decide to move to Chicago to be a community organizer. In the book he talks about this experience and how he had to deal with issues such as gang violence, whites’ suspicion of blacks and vice versa, and job losses due to steel plants closings.

During his eight years in the Illinois Senate, Obama was tapped to head up what is described in this helpful article on the subject as "...the most ambitious campaign reform in nearly 25 years, making Illinois one of the best in the nation on campaign finance disclosure." He also worked on the following initiatives, taken directly from his website: “...working with both Democrats and Republicans to help working families get ahead by creating programs like the state Earned Income Tax Credit, which in three years provided over $100 million in tax cuts to families across the state. He also pushed through an expansion of early childhood education, and after a number of inmates on death row were found innocent, Senator Obama worked with law enforcement officials to require the videotaping of interrogations and confessions in all capital cases.”

His character in the state Senate was described in the above article as a time during which he "emerged as a leader while still in his 30s by developing a style former colleagues describe as methodical, inclusive and pragmatic. He cobbled together legislation with Republicans and conservative Democrats, making overtures other progressive politicians might consider distasteful."

His three-and-a-half years as a U.S. Senator have included a wide variety work on legislation, and on important committees (which, for those who are not entirely clear, are the vehicle by which hearings are held, many bills are formed, etc.). In terms of legislation, I don't think the impact of the ethics reform Obama spearheaded can be underestimated--indeed, it is the type of reform that steps back from the question of what the government will do to first ensure that they are operating in a proper fashion. His now-enacted ethics reform law bars members of Congress from accepting gifts, trips, meals, etc. from lobbyists; the law that speaks volumes when one considers the many seats in Congress now vacated by members that accepted such gifts (such as Duke Cunningham, former Congressman from California who is now in jail for accepting bribes from lobbyists). For more on that bill, related ethics reform laws he was the primary sponsor on, and for information on his work on Iraq, immigration, veterans issues, and other areas, see this thorough overview from his website (it's particularly helpful because it openly addresses negative views of Obama's accomplishments from a recent New York Times article).

Obama also reviews a number of his policy proposals in his newest book, The Audacity of Hope. The Washington Post reviewed the book, noting that in it, Obama “articulates a mode of liberalism that sounds both highly pragmatic and deeply moral.” It goes on: “Obama's knack for mixing stirring rhetoric about good and evil with practical policy ideas is rare in the modern history of U.S. politics. At times, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan managed the feat. But none of these men wrote his own presidential speeches. Nor did Kennedy or Reagan really write the books that carry their names.”

In terms of relevant foreign policy experience, Barack's place on the prominent foreign relations committee in the Senate has had him regularly rubbing up against behemoth issues of world affairs. In the last two weeks alone, that committee is holding, or has held, hearings on the following topics (listed here under Feb.'08): “the President’s foreign affairs budget”; the “status of the six party talks for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”; a briefing on Sudan; and “the immediate and underlying causes and consequences of Kenya’s flawed election.” He has also received a lot of attention for his work with Republican Senator Richard Lugar to secure loose nukes in Russia, passing a related bill with Lugar. In that vein, this article from Sept. 2006 highlights the relationship the two built, along Lugar's view of Obama: "Lugar praises Obama's 'strong voice and creativity' and calls him 'my good friend.' In short, the two agree on much and seem to genuinely like each other. Rather unusual in hyper-partisan Washington, these days."

For any who doubt Obama’s capability in foreign policy specifically however, I would encourage you to watch any or all of a variety of in-depth videos available here on the foreign policy section of his website. A good place to start would be with this video of a panel discussing Obama’s foreign policy experience and capability. It includes a number of well-reputed scholars, including Georgetown professor and former National Security Advisor to President Clinton, Dr. Tony Lake. It is the first part of the panel, with the second and third available in the link I noted above (along with numerous other foreign policy-related videos on Obama). All the videos are around 45 minutes to an hour.

Additionally, as I noted above--and as many others have noted to the point of cliché--the experience of many in Congress and the federal government has been varied at best and illegal at worst, undercutting the idea that time in the federal government necessarily equals preparation for high office. A great point was made by the Chicago Tribune in that vein:

“…a certain other lanky, big-eared former Illinois legislator with just two years in Washington was mocked for his lack of experience when he ran for president in 1860, and he turned out to be an OK chief executive. But one doesn't have to see Obama as the reincarnation of Abe Lincoln to realize first that experience—the length of one's resume—is not necessarily a predictor of success in the Oval Office; second, that no experience as a mayor, governor or legislator can really prepare a person to be the leader of the free world; and third, related to the first two, that the ability to inspire, to lead, to listen and to deliberate is a personality trait, not a skill one learns in the political trenches.”

It’s also worth noting that if we were in the year 1992, when Clinton was running for President, Obama would be one year his elder. What say you readers? Let me know if you have any thoughts in opposition (or support), I would love to hear them.

Update: Good 45-minute A&E piece on Obama's biography:

Another from Sunday's 60 Minutes that gives a good sense of Obama:

Update 2:
Having just finished reading through the rest of Dreams from My Father, I wanted to add a few quick comments on it. It is, like he says in the intro he later added, a bit "indulgent" with some of the descriptions and use of words, but since he wrote it over 13 years ago, back in 1995, that's understandable. It's a great story though, and an insightful look at his development as a person. In thinking about him as a potential president, I was surprised to see how comforted I was by his simple ability to walk through a thought process, going from point a to point b--a real commentary on our current Commander and Chief. But, more specifically, the internal, reflective life that he lays out in the book is reassuring, revealing how he weighs his thoughts and choices carefully. Related, it shows how his aim with those choices is to make things more right in the world, and that he feels that can only happen if one approaches life honestly, willing to plod along if need be, and wrestle with decisions and considerations. Otherwise, as I note above, it chronicles the intriguing series of events that he's lived through and been shaped by, as described in more depth in this brief overview of the book on Amazon.

Update 3: At the Democratic National Convention in Aug. 2008, there were a few helpful videos on Obama's story: here, here and here (along with a nice, 10-minute piece here).

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pray Tell Hillary, What KIND of Experience?

A resume from floor to ceiling tells a potential employer that the applicant has experience, yes. But what employer worth his salt would stop there? Might there be a second, more important question asked, regarding the quality of that experience?

Hillary indeed has experience, but her strident touting of said experience belies the dirty underbelly of the issue. Case in point (the most important case in point): Of the two Dems left in it, Mrs. Clinton is undoubtedly the one with the most experience--indeed the only experience--of sending us into what has been described as the “worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam” (those are Richard Holbrooke’s words, former UN Ambassador under Bill Clinton and purportedly a possible Secretary of State under Hillary). Not only did Hillary support this war with her early vote, but as also noted in the above article, she plans to enlist the same crew if she were to make it to the White House: "Clinton has lined up a foreign policy team dominated by those who shared her early support for the war in Iraq, but then, like her, changed their minds."

But more to the point of this post, her "experience" is marred by this vote in my view. Of the myriad issues comprising the arguments in this primary season, we must remember that they are not all created equal. War must be paramount if we are to claim a high view of human life. The hundreds of thousands dead because of it, must be at the forefront of our mind when considering "the issues." Thus her vote is deeply troubling, based on my analysis of it. And, simply speaking, it has told me enough about her experience for me to realize that I do not want her as my president.

Yet each one of us, if we are to make our decision with the most information possible, must examine the details of that vote to come to a thoughtful determination. I do not want to go into the full reasoning for my decision here, as I have done so in past posts, but I'll provide a few links here before explaining a bit more why I find her vote to be so troubling. As I have described here, there were over 150 members of the U.S. House and Senate that opposed that 2002 vote to authorize use of force against Iraq. In that same post, I lay out some of the reasons those members of Congress voted against the war. I also discuss those reasons here, in a post highlighting parts of a speech given by Congressman Dennis Kucinich (former presidential candidate) a week before the vote.

Furthermore, when Clinton was preparing to vote for this use of force against Iraq, Obama was, as all likely know by now, opposing the war in a 2002 speech, including the now famous line, “I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda” (emphasis added). Both of Obama’s points about the problems of an invasion and the strengthening of Al Qaeda were unfortunately proven true. (More excerpts and a link to the full speech are available in this previous post.)

To draw out my initial analogy though, imagine, if you would, an employer who is considering hiring an accountant. One candidate has years of experience, and has shown to do well in a number of areas. However, at one point she, in conjunction with others, made a decision that caused an accounting disaster, plummeting her organization into debt. Might this be a fair, and even more so, a necessary consideration for the employer? Is it not one of, if not the most important consideration in terms of that accountant's “experience”? And lastly, would it not augment the need to consider this aspect of her experience if many of her coworkers had warned that she and others were making the wrong decision? Certainly the details of the scenario would have to be examined prior to a final decision by the employer, but a nuanced judgment would be needed, wherein the employer would weigh the good and the bad of her experience. Indeed a judgment might be made that yes, the accountant did have some good experience, but in one of the most integral areas of her job, she made the wrong decision—thus, to overstate the obvious, she had some significant bad experience.

Imagine further that the employer had an alternate candidate who had spoken up, albeit from outside the organization, warning against the bad decision that was eventually made. It stands to reason that this aspect of the alternate candidate’s experience, and the judgment it showed, would be a significant factor, particularly given that the area in question was central to the job. If the alternate had less experience, the question might then become, does he have enough experience? And this question is where I will end this post and pick up with my next, "The Rich Experience of an Obama."

Update: An addendum here, from a recent Washington Post article: "[Clinton's] refusal -- her inability -- to simply confess poor judgment says to me that her vote was politically motivated. In that, she was not alone. All of her 2008 Democratic primary colleagues who were in the Senate at the time voted for the war resolution. Many other Senate Democrats voted against it -- on the basis not of different facts but of a different judgment about the same facts." Based on the facts that were available at the time, as I linked to above, and the sentiment around the country that we needed to be "tough on terrorism," it's not beyond possibility in my mind that Clinton voted politically and not ethically. If it was not political however, I find it no less troubling: she either wasn't diligent enough in researching the available facts (which does not seem as likely), or she did not view war as an utter last resort, as I feel compelled to (along with those such as Sen. Carl Levin, as noted here).

Update 2: I should add that while Clinton's 35-year claim to experience is true in part, as noted in this CQ article on it, some aspects of it are worrisome, on top of the Iraq war vote; namely, her attempt at bringing about health care reform during the Clinton Administration excluded even some Democrats, and was of course unsuccessful on a whole.

Obama Wins by Over 21% in Each of Three Primaries Tonight

Obama supporters in Richmond, VA tonight. Photo credit to Reuters.

Obama swept the three races tonight: 68% in Washington state to Clinton's 31% (96% reporting)--a 37% difference; 57% in Louisiana to Clinton's 36% (99% reporting)--a 21% difference; 68% in Nebraska to Clinton's 32% (100% reporting)--a 36% difference. The point of relaying this is not to disparage Clinton, but to emphasize Obama's electability, and to report the reality of what's going on. The candidates are at a "virtual tie" according to this Washington Post article, which explains more of the details on the race (along with the specifics on the Republican races tonight; according to this great NPR map which I like so much, it shows Huckabee won in Kansas and Louisiana, with Washington appearing to go to McCain).

Clinton and Obama spoke after the results were known in my great state of Virginia, at the Virginia Democratic party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner. Clinton hasn't posted her video yet of the speech, but I'll put it up when it's available. For right now however, here's a compilation of clips from her speech that I found on the Washington Post's website.

Here's Obama's full speech made available through his site:

Here we go, Hillary's part 1, 2 and 3 of her speech:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Update (2/10/08): Add Maine to the list...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Two Families + 25 years = Too Much

Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Bush—Clinton, Clinton? An old point now, to be sure, but is it not valid? The reality being discussed by many is that Bill Clinton would play a significant roll in the presidency (not hard to imagine given his prominence in the campaign thus far). What's a term limit then though? Perhaps I can understand allowing it legally, so as not to tell any American that they cannot run for president, but on another level, it’s entirely disconcerting.

Sure Bill had his strengths, and significant ones, but the monarchical feel to a repetition of families such as this is unsettling, to put it mildly. What's the count? That would be...four for George Sr., eight for Bill, eight for Bush Jr., and four to eight for Hillary. So 24-28 (long) years of two families running our country (and with our behemoth sway globally, one must consider the ways these two families have "run" the world as well). On the conservative side, that's one year short of a quarter century--and one quarter century too long for two families, in my opinion. So much can happen in 25 years! What more can one say?

Enfranchised in VA.

It's nice to be able to vote. It's even nicer when your vote counts, like mine now will, along with 4,571,072 other registered voters in Virginians (not to mention those in Maryland, DC, and however many more states end up enfranchised). We'll all have a say, a real say, in at least who becomes the Democratic presidential candidate. But rest assured, we have the sincere apologies of the primary-election designers for inconveniencing us with this unfortunate civic duty (read: inalienable right). Whoever they were, it surely doesn't appear that they designed the system with the aim of counting states such as mine on a regular basis. The results are often determined long before they reach us, as was expected this year. But VA, MD and DC cannot claim this sacred place at the end of the line all our own, some 22 other states have either a Democratic and/or Republican primary or caucus after today--that's round about half the country, I'll be.

Oddly enough, some people find this disconcerting, maybe even...undemocratic. Some, such as the highly-respected senior Senator from Michigan, Carl Levin, have suggested simply having four to six days or so of primaries, not far apart on the calendar. Each of those days would include a diverse mix of states in terms of size, geography, and perhaps other factors. Hey, he's got my vote. That is...if it's not decided before I get a chance to vote...

I should note, on a related topic, that I'm not sure where I fall with the recent controversy over the Democratic, and to a lesser degree, Republican parties stripping Michigan and Florida of all or some of their delegates; I just haven't read enough about it. Regardless of that though, I remember a little about that d-word I learned about in high school government, and this overall primary system just ain't it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

What's a Super Tuesday?

Below is a link to a great overview from Congressional Quarterly on what Super Tuesday's all about, and what some of the implications of it are. Interestingly, for some such as myself, there's a high likelihood the Democratic run will continue on into next Tuesday, when Virginia will vote (along with Washington DC and Maryland), and possibly on into early March and beyond, when big states like Ohio and Texas enter into the equation.

The CQ article has a brief explanation for each of the following eight questions:

1. How many states are holding contests Feb. 5, and what types of contests will be held?

2. What times might election results be reported?

3. What is the difference between a primary and a caucus and a convention?

4. How many delegates are at stake on Feb. 5?

5. Which Feb. 5 states provide the richest delegate prizes to the candidates?

6. How are delegates allocated among the presidential candidates?

7. So why are so many states voting on the same day?

8. Does the huge number of delegates at stake mean both parties’ nominees will effectively locked in by the Feb. 5 results?

Update: Everyone's saying results are split tonight between Obama and Clinton, for all intents and purposes. NPR has a great system set up on their website to track the outcomes as they come in. They're also doing live coverage of the outcomes, both of which you can find here. California will be a big one that has yet to report at 11:02 pm, but hopefully we'll hear something conclusive soon.

Update 2: A funny note--in Obama's Chicago speech tonight, he was talking sort of casually, saying at one point that he asked his nine-year old daughter Malia if she wanted to come out on stage, and she said, "You know that's not my thing dad." I love it, nothing like being reminded of the human qualities in a candidate.

Update 3: Still undetermined, the race will undoubtedly go on. NPR just reported that Clinton strategists were even considering tactics for the Pennsylvania primary--in April.

Update 4: Here's a great CQ overview of the Super Tuesday contest, as most results are in. As I said however, results are only news that the race will continue, as the numbers in this line from the CQ article reveal: "The delegate count as of early Wednesday was at 744 for Clinton to 679 for Obama, with 2,025 needed for the nomination."

Update 5: This pic's great--all credit for goes to a fellow Obama supporter for this picture of Obama's grandmother, Sarah Hussein Obama, 86, as she awaits results from Super Tuesday (credit also to photographer Paula Bronstein/Getty Images). As the Obama supporter who sent me this astutely suggested, a great header for the pic. would be "Who says older woman don't support Obama?" Notice who's in the picture she's holding (a way young Barack Obama), and the sign to her left:

Monday, February 4, 2008

Hillary's Earned Opposition: "Obama is a Reaganite"

I believe the Clintons have, in many ways, been earning the negative opposition they are facing. As I noted here, this opposition, and the inseparable sentiments about her husband, are enough to bring into question: 1. her ability to win the election in Nov., if nominated over Obama; 2. her ability to build support for the Democratic party and not quickly lose the opportunity for the party to move forward a progressive agenda over some number of years; and 3. perhaps most importantly, her desirability as a President, given the nature of the negative and disingenuous statements by her and Bill of recent (and this does not even touch on the myriad incidents and sordid history of their past years).

The example I'll discuss here is again, just one of the reasons why the Clintons have earned this opposition, and centers on an attack about two weeks ago, leveled by the Clintons on Obama for his "Reagan statement." In the South Carolina debate, as well as in paid advertisements, the Clintons denigrated Obama for his comments about Ronald Reagan. The terrible irony is that Bill Clinton, as detailed in this Washington Post article, praised Reagan in numerous ways during his run for the White House in 1991-1992. He said things praising Reagan's work on the Cold War, esteeming his "rhetoric in defense of freedom," and his work in "advancing the idea that communism could be rolled back." The Post article notes that during that time, the Memphis Commercial Appeal said that Bill "set himself apart from the pack of contenders for the Democratic nomination by saying something nice about Ronald Reagan," revealing his "readiness to defy his party's prevailing Reaganphobia."

Now, turning to Obama. The part of Obama's statement in question, which can be found in video and text form here, was as follows:

"I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing...I think it’s fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last ten, fifteen years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom."
In response to these statements, as noted in the link from above, Hillary stated: "My leading opponent the other day said that he thought the Republicans had better ideas than Democrats the last 10 to 15 years." Her husband said, "[My wife's] principal opponent said that since 1992, the Republicans have had all the good ideas....I'm not making this up, folks." Nowhere in Obama's statement does he say the Republicans had good ideas--nowhere. Rather, he says they had ideas that mobilized people, shook things up from the regular approach to things. As it says on this Chicago Tribune blog, "When the Clintons used "better" and "good" in alluding the Obama's remarks, they weren't paraphrasing, they weren't misremembering, they weren't distorting. They were simply lying."

Hillary went on to attempt to "call Obama out" on this in the SC debate two weeks ago; her statement and his reply can be found in the video below. In it, Obama points out that he has "spent a lifetime working against [Reagan's] policies," and that nowhere in his statement does he say Reagan's ideas were good or what was needed.

Hillary also paid for advertising, such as the radio ad below, that again seeks to paint Obama as one who accepts and endorses the ideas of Reagan (the ad was soon pulled from the air by the campaign):

I will not willingly accept these thin ethics again in a President, I just can't, it's not good for anyone involved. This is one reason, among others, that Obama has my vote. As noted in the wonderful thoughts of 90-year old NPR commentator Daniel Schorr, who won three Emmys in 1972 for his coverage of the Nixon Watergate lies, lying has become a shamefully acceptable practice. That short radio piece can be found here, with another short piece on lying in government here. Answer the poll below and/or write in a comment if you have any thoughts on this.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Hillary: Democratic Devolutionist

Yes, the above is about what I think Sen. Hillary Clinton would do for the Democratic Party if she were to be elected President. But believe me, I have no interest in simply flashing inflammatory images across the screen; rather, I have found that this point is supported by some simple facts that I, and numerous others, have observed. In my following post I'll note some reasons why I find that this polarizing quality is earned, not simple a fabled story of the political right.

As for this post though, I would like to point out the consequences of Mrs. Clinton's polarization. It is such that she would be voted out of the White House as quickly as she was voted in, in my view. (A serious qualification has to be added here to say that her ascendency into the White House is far from a given. The seemingly venomous opposition to her from various corners of politics simply makes her too risky to be the Democratic candidate for President in my judgment). But, if somehow she was able to get into the White House, I believe her polarizing nature would do a significant disservice to the Democratic Party (albeit somewhat unintended). The risk is simply too great that this polarization would impassion the political right to mobilize their base and once again flip the White House back into Republican control, thus cutting short the Democratic Party's opportunity to make any solid headway with a progressive agenda.

I'll make a quick point here for those who are uncertain of the degree of her polarization, although I would be surprised if any readers have not witnessed (or expressed) such polarization themselves. Note exhibit A, to the left. I first saw such a doll, alongside a Bush voodoo doll, at the popular bookstore chain, Borders. Plainly speaking, I think it's tasteless. But it is, nevertheless, representative of some of the strong feelings against her; and, it is worth stating, that there is no such Obama doll (or for that matter, McCain or Romney doll). Feel free to look for yourself, but on the Borders website here, and another site here, there were only Bush and Hillary dolls. The latter site even has toilet paper that can come with the image of Hillary, Bush or Cheney. The fact that Hillary uniquely falls into a similar category of the now infamous Bush and Cheney-opposition highlights the extreme nature of her divisiveness. I don't think it's entirely merited, as noted in a recent Washington Post article: "the same irrational Clinton hatred is alive and well in certain parts of the media." However, I would insert the word "somewhat" before "irrational," because I believe Hillary and her husband have earned this opposition of recent. As I have mentioned, I'll note in the following post some of why I believe this is so.

Update: To further emphasize an above point I made, the general election in November will undoubtedly be decided by middle voters. There's a block to the left and to the right that we can safely predict will vote their party, thus the moderates and independents will determine the election. Hillary's divisiveness, and the earned and unearned opposition to her and her husband, would entirely weaken her ability to garner those middle voters; conversely, Obama has consistently shown himself as stronger with independents than Clinton.

Update 2: Two new polls, one from Gallup and one from AP, place Obama as the most likely to win the general election race against McCain. Details here.