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

"The unexamined vote is not worth casting."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Obama Meets the Shenandoah Valley

"I am so grateful to be in this gorgeous Shenandoah Valley. I am so grateful to be with all the people of Harrisonburg and the Valley as a whole, and here at JMU."

-Barack Obama, addressing 8,000-person crowd at JMU

So yeah, that's definitely a shot of Obama's plane at the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport on Tuesday, in none other than Weyers Cave, VA (a wee little town 15 minutes from where I grew up, with an airport just as small); and yeah, those are also our boo-yow Blue Ridge Mountains in the background--aren't they beautiful? Obama was coming in for a rally at JMU, in Harrisonburg, VA, but he was, believe it or not (for you fellow Stauntonians out there), planning a stop in Staunton before that!! Unfortunately he got in late, as this piece in our Staunton paper talks about (fun piece by the way, gives a good sense of the hubbub of having a candidate in the area). The Daily News Leader there in Staunton also has a good collection of online pics they took of the whole episode of Obama landing, the security folks running all over the place, etc. You can also see some of the dichotomy of folks in the area with the comments they left on the paper's website for the various articles they did on the visit (like this one here).

As far as the JMU rally though, my mom, one of my little sisters, my grandmother, and some family friends started standing in line at 1:45 or so Tuesday to see Obama, and got in about two hours later--that's cause there were 20,000 people who showed up. Only 8,000 got in, with the other 12 left apparently hanging outside. Here's a pic to the right that our family friend took of Obama inside, though hopefully there are some more I can post in an update later. I'll also post some other shots from the area and a video of some parts of the speech a little farther down.

But I'll tell you, my grandmother is a rock star, making the trek down from DC to see him speak. She's also a real pragmatist though, and so I was surprised to hear her mention how she found herself stirred when she heard Obama in person talk about the idea of motivating people by hope instead of fear (and believe me, she's a politico to the heart, living in DC most of her life, so she's heard tons of his speeches, read about him throughout the year-and-a-half of the campaign, etc.). I know I've told people who have shirked at the idea of Obama's hope-talk that hope can mean everything or it can mean nothing, depending on whether there is any substance behind it.

In my view there is with Obama. In talking to my grandmother tonight about the rally, it made me think about the seemingly-eternal comparison presidential candidates will have to our goliath US presidents, such as FDR. Some would say Roosevelt did some bad, but many say he did much more good (I actually watched an interesting news piece tonight on PBS' NewsHour about FDR's handling of the economy in a financial crisis, with a comparison to today's economic situation; for anyone interested you can listen to the audio here). But if a presidential candidate were to ever reproduce some of the successes of FDR, and/or the related public approval that won him four terms in office, then it would most certainly be through bold propositions of what might be, not by scaring people into what's "safe." Obama is comfortable in the realm of what might be, but, as with anything new, it takes an openness to change, an energy to work towards what might be (which many would call "hope"), and, as my grandmother pointed out, an innovative spirit.

FDR is known for having said "It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something" (emphasis added). I have no fear that Obama would try things--but I at the same time think he will balance innovation with the methodical approach he's become known for. In that respect, he may even, if I can dare to say it, surpass FDR in ways; for FDR, according to the above piece I watched tonight, would aribtrarily raise and lower the price of gold to see what happened (though they noted that most else he did was much more pointed and purposeful). Perhaps the ever-increasing respect and related ubiquity of science and research will also allow an Obama administration the opportunity to do some precision governing that wasn't as possible during FDR's time (to certain extents; though I'm sad to say that Bush doesn't appear to have that same excuse for some things).

Enough said in that respect though, now for some random Shenandoah Valley-related stuff--here's a few front page shots from newspapers in Harrisonburg (at left) and Staunton (which again, is where I grew up, half-an-hour South of Harrisonburg, where Obama spoke; you can click on the pictures to enlarge, where you'll see a 78-year old woman in tears in the Harrisonburg paper as she listens to Obama speak; you can also read about how "Daily swim keeps man fit"--I love it):

Check it out though, we even got a piece on a New York Times blog post about the huge event it was to have a presidential candidate come to the Valley--after all, as Obama points out in his speech, "the last time a Democratic presidential nominee visited the city was 148 years ago when Stephen Douglas, another Illinois senator...came through en route to losing the election to Abraham Lincoln."

Lastly, here's some video clips from the JMU rally that the Daily News Leader put together:

Photo credit of plane above: The Daily News Leader

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Value, and Values, of Barack: Why He Gave That Speech On Race

As a part of PBS' Frontline piece "The Choice 2008" (which I hear is a good look at the candidates), they interviewed Obama's chief campaign strategist, David Axelrod. At one point they asked him: "When the Rev. [Jeremiah] Wright comments came out and the whole hubbub happened, what were your thoughts? How did you decide to deal with it?" This is how he responded, and it blows me away to see the depth of value in Obama that it reflects:

"The Rev. Wright episode was one of those episodes in which I began to see a president in real stark terms, because the stories broke; it was a feeding frenzy in the media. He was in Washington voting until 1:00 in the morning. We had set up some editorial board interviews the next day in Chicago on a different, also challenging subject. So he flew back into the city in the middle of the day on Friday, and he issued a statement on Rev. Wright -- we had written one; he rewrote it. Went off to his editorial boards for three hours, went on television, sat for three or four different interviews on Rev. Wright, and then said that night, 'I want to do a speech on race; I want to put this in context.'

He had mentioned the desire to make a speech like this before, but this seemed like the right time. And he said, 'And I want to do it on Monday or Tuesday.' He said, 'But I have to write it.'

So he went off campaigning on Saturday and came home. At 9:30 Saturday night he dictated an outline to one of his speechwriters, who shot it back to him on Sunday. Sunday night at 10:00, he started working on it again, and worked until 3:00 in the morning. We took off at 8:00 in the morning the next day, on Monday. The speech was Tuesday. Campaigned all day in Pennsylvania, and then from 9:30 till 2:00 in the morning on Monday, he finished the speech.

Knowing his habits, I just went to sleep, thinking I'd wake up in the middle of the night because the speech would be there in the middle of the night. And that's what happened. And I read that speech, and I just e-mailed him back and said, "This is why you should be president," because it was so filled with wisdom and so profound in many ways that it just blew me away that a guy in the midst of all this chaos, with no sleep and in the middle of the night, could produce that kind of thought and that kind of work." (emphasis added)

Take a look at the speech he came up with, below, that offers a glimpse of the hopeful--yes hopeful--perspective that Obama has to offer our country on this issue (in addition to the undoubtedly important approaches he has to foreign policy, energy, civic engagement, health care, etc., etc.). By the way, I wrote a piece on this speech when he gave it back in March that highlights some of the parts that struck me the most. Here's the speech (with 5,056,568 views on You Tube so far, and that's only for this version of it):

Friday, October 24, 2008

Woe is McCain: Impulsive Decision Maker

Bush's reckless comments and decisions are world-renown. Indeed, he was voted into office in part because he seemed more like a guy you could have a beer with than someone who had the care and thoughtfulness to make decisions about war and diplomacy, energy use and economics, etc. McCain and his VP choice, Sarah Palin, appear to be following suit (see Palin's comment about how she "didn't hesitate" and didn't "blink" when asked to be McCain's VP, and what looked like a rushed vetting process of her by McCain). The problem has come into full view with the most recent economic crisis and McCain's helter-skelter decisions surrounding it, including the melodramatic suspension of his campaign. Check out this well-put article on the subject (it's brief), where the writer points out the following:

"The solution was to try to make it look as if McCain were leading the heroic effort to save the American way of life. To do this, he had to portray the negotiations over [an economic] rescue plan -- which had been making orderly progress -- as stalled and in shambles...McCain succeeded in focusing attention on himself, but not necessarily in a good way. Voters may see this not as an illustration of brave leadership but as another example of McCain's 'ready, fire, aim' approach to dealing with any crisis. Putting himself at the center of events -- making any situation all about him -- is more than a political tactic for McCain."

This Washington Post article, by conservative columnist George Will, analyzes some more of McCain's erratic approach to the economic crisis. But for a more in-depth look at McCain's decision-making process (or lack of process), take a look at this PBS close-up video of him, done a few weeks ago. Then, for comparison, take a look at the piece done on Obama, where they asked the same question of how he makes his decisions. It's part of a larger series they are doing on how the candidates would lead, how they handle disappointment, and so on, that I'll be interested to watch some more of.

But the question of how one makes decisions is an important one. Are there usually lots of sides to an issue, and lots of research to be done before choosing A over B? What about when you get into presidential-level decisions? Do we want someone who, in the case of McCain always "goes with his gut" and, as the PBS piece points out, tries to make the quickest decision possible at times? The PBS piece quotes McCain saying, "I don't torture myself over decisions. I make them as quickly as I can, quicker than the other fellow, if I can. Often, my haste is a mistake, but I live with the consequences without complaint."

To be sure, this is not a black and white argument, as "gut-level" decisions can result in good, honest stances, as has been the case at times with McCain; but, trusting one's judgment--which is often what is meant by "gut-level" decision-making--does not mean one can't follow a careful, researched process in approaching a decision. The process can provide all of the information on the possible positions, allowing the most accurate judgment call to be made; at that point, after all of the relevant points have been thoroughly considered, a decision "from the gut" could be fair and even preferable--but McCain is not known for gathering those important outside perspectives prior to making a decision. That's even supported by those on the right, such as Norman Ornstein from the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who, in an interview for the above PBS piece, explained McCain's decision-making process in the following way:

"John McCain is a fighter pilot. A lot of his persona comes from being a fighter pilot.

This is a man who not only constantly questions authority, but is fond of making last-minute, from-the-gut, impulsive, risk-taking decisions, and believing to his bones that there may be a risk here, but it will pay off.

An impulsive decision-making style is fine if you're riding a jet. An impulsive decision-making style is fine if you're piloting a jet in combat [though I, Brendan, would interject that it wasn't fine with the three plane crashes McCain was responsible for as a navy pilot]. It's fine if you're a senator where the consequences are not going to be that long-lasting. It's a real question mark when you move into the presidency."

Decisions about what to eat for dinner, or other basic-level decisions, do not necessarily require or allow for a careful decision-making process--but bombing a country? Dealing with a financial crisis? Choosing a successor? Choosing folks to oversee entire swaths of the country and its governance, such as the Secretary of Commerce, Energy, Defense, or even Supreme Court Justices? Those decisions shouldn't be made on the fly. We've felt the effects of exactly that with the type of decision-making that has occurred under the Bush Administration; I've been surprised to hear about seemingly safe corners of the government falling into disarray or corruption, or both--from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (and that doesn't even go into the areas of more obvious corruption and disarray, such as the selling and subsequent mishandling of the Iraq war, the use of no-bid contracts in Iraq and otherwise, the inhumane torture of US detainees, etc., etc.).

These are at once managerial and ideological issues in my view, as they relate to the individuals Bush appointed to manage these agencies, but also the direction he gave them; in the business sector, we would not question the fact that a CEO is generally where the buck stops in terms of responsibility for the health or weakness of his/her company, so we shouldn't think any less for those responsible for governmental agencies. Thus, for all of these types of high-level decisions, I would insist on someone who is less impulsive (to use former Senator Gary Hart's word for McCain in the PBS clip), who weighs their decisions with the care and research that's required for issues of such importance. Our country and world can't afford much more of our recklessness.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Polling Everyone Out There...

Where stand thou on the issues this election? I’ve put some of the candidates’ self-professed stances below, though please look up more details if you'd like additional info. In the end, the candidates quite willingly admit they have different philosophies about what will be the best for our country and our people. So...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

From Staunton, VA, a Call for More Women's Rights Through Obama

The following was published a few weekends ago in the Staunton News Leader, the paper from my hometown, Staunton, VA, found in the beautiful rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley. It's called "Voting for Obama with Equality in Mind," and I totally appreciate the focus on women's rights (it lacks some full-on specifics, though there's more on Obama's positions related to women here and here, and on his running mate, Joe Biden's violence-against-women work here):

"Since 1920, women have had the right to vote; the suffrage movement in the United States marked 144 years of oppression by our founding fathers, which disenfranchised women, simply because of their gender. Although the 20th century marked numerous reforms allowing the extension of rights to all people, today women continue to suffer when it comes to wages and earnings. In 2005, women in the U.S. made 79 percent of what their male counterparts (who did the exact same work they did) made.

Unfair? Heck yes! Well, there is hope. Recently Lilly Ledbetter, a retired worker for Goodyear Tires, spoke to a crowd of hundreds about her fight that climbed all the way to the Supreme Court to achieve recompense for her company paying her less than male coworkers. Her moving speech was followed by another moving speech by Michelle Obama, (the wife of Barack Obama) who discussed women's rights, particularly the right to deserve equal pay. Folks, the time is now for change, but change cannot occur if you do not vote.

Voter registration for Virginia ends on Oct. 6.

So if you care about equal rights, equal pay and want your government to serve you and not the wealthy minority of this nation, vote. Make your voice heard. If you wonder who will bring about this change, just read the headlines, and you'll find the word Obama synonymous with the word 'change.'


As a quick follow-up, a stellar video from Obama recently in Florida--he cut to the center of me with it with some honest remembrances of the hard, HARD work women have done over the years, naming the plight and work women have done in such a refreshing, and again, honest way (I was way tired when I watched, but definitely teared up with it, let me know if it gets anyone else like that):

Oh, and while I'm posting videos, here's a great one on Biden's work on a great bill to seriously fight violence against women:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

VA's Repub. Leader Crosses Line, Comparing Obama to Osama

I feel I'm losing grip on reality as I hear some of these comments spewing out of the Republican party--is it real? It feels like an alternate reality, surreal, as I read of the head of Virginia's Republican Party, Jeffrey Frederick, comparing Barack Obama to Osama Bin Laden: "Both have friends that bombed the Pentagon, that is scary," he said last weekend. And who was he saying this too? To volunteers who had come out to knock on doors in Virginia for McCain.

What world does this man live on? What hatred does he so easily let fall from his mouth?! I write that in complete seriousness--it infuriates me that, as Obama has rightly said, all this is making a big election about small things. The words of this Republican leader in VA would likely qualify as hate speech if it were directed at someone else, and this supposed leader--and how it degrades the word to use it for folks who act this way--willingly misleads with it. As I wrote here, these type of comments have been completely disproven, named as "one of the most appalling campaigns" in history, and yet McCain allows it--and not only that, he's continued to support phone calls pushing the same disgusting ideas. His appeasing comments at the last debate about always repudiating out-of-bound remarks just isn't true, with one of the most shameful of all coming out of his running mate's mouth, with not a word of repudiation.

As I've said before, both candidates have misled in ways, but the evidence is hugely stacked against McCain, and leads me to give up on the question of whether he or Palin are measuring their actions with any serious or consistent ethical or moral considerations--a distressing thought for me, as these folks are of course one of two options for not just any leadership positions, but two of the most powerful in our world.

If I have children one day, I can safely say that I would strongly consider living in another country if these guys are elected and things continue in this direction--we need people our nation's children can aspire to, respect, and mimic; and no, I don't believe that's too much to ask from politicians, as it has been done in the past, here and abroad, and there are some politicians leading in that way today.

Here's the full quote from the Time magazine article I quoted above:

"[Virginia GOP Chairman Jeffrey M. Frederick] climbed atop a folding chair to give 30 campaign volunteers who were about to go canvassing door to door their talking points — for instance, the connection between Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden: 'Both have friends that bombed the Pentagon,' he said. 'That is scary.' It is also not exactly true — though that distorted reference to Obama's controversial association with William Ayers, a former 60s radical, was enough to get the volunteers stoked. 'And he won't salute the flag,' one woman added, repeating another myth about Obama. She was quickly topped by a man who called out, 'We don't even know where Senator Obama was really born.' Actually, we do; it's Hawaii..."

These are folks from Gainesville, Virginia talking, and I can understand how they may have been misled, but it only emphasizes the need for anyone out there with a conscience--whether you're for Obama or not--to combat this crap whenever you come across it.

Photo credit: Time magazine.


Take a look at this endorsement of Obama this morning by Colin Powell, President Bush's former Secretary of State, of all people! I was stunned, not just by the endorsement, but by some of the specifics of why he endorsed Obama--take a listen:

The video puts it pretty clearly, but to emphasize some of the points, here are a few lines from a Washington Post blog on the endorsement:

"Former Secretary of State Colin Powell crossed party lines this morning to endorse Sen. Barack Obama for president, the most prominent GOP defection yet of the 2008 campaign.

Obama has courted Republicans all along, but in Powell he gets party crossover plus military credibility. Powell is a retired U.S. Army general and served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the first President Bush.

As Secretary of State under the current President Bush, Powell helped to build the case for the Iraq war, a role that hurt him with many Democrats and moderates, who had viewed him as somewhat apolitical...

Powell said he had watched both Obama and Sen. John McCain in the last 'six or seven weeks,' since the national political conventions, and paid special attention to how they reacted to the nation's worsening economic situation.

'I must say, he seemed a little unsure about how to approach the problem,' Powell said of McCain.

'He didn't have a complete grasp of the economic problems we have.'

Powell also expressed concerns about McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. 'I don't believe she's ready to be President of the United States, which is the job of vice president,' Powell said, adding that it raised 'some questions in my mind' about McCain's judgment...

The retired general said that 'John McCain is as non-discriminatory as anyone I know' but he expressed serious concerns about his campaign's, and the Republican Party's recent focus on Obama's past association with William Ayers and robocalls the campaign has placed in battleground states this past week.

'I think this goes too far. I think it's made the McCain campaign look a little narrow. I look at these kinds of approaches to the campaign, and they trouble me. The party has moved further to the right,' he said...

He said: 'I strongly believe that at this point in America's history, we need a president that will not just continue basically the policies we have been following in recent years. I think we need a transformational figure. I think we need a president who is a generational change.'

Powell spent several moments discussing the false rumors that Obama is a Muslim, saying he was upset he had even heard the rumors from senior Republicans.

'What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?' he asked. 'The answer is no.' "

That last point is one I had been waiting to hear from somebody throughout the last year and a half or so, because so blatantly behind every question of whether Obama is a Muslim, is that pernicious idea that there would be a problem with a Muslim running for president. Powell's description of this was profound though, leading up to it as he did by describing a Muslim-American who was so moved by Sept.11, at age 14, that he eventually went on to serve and die for the US in Iraq. Powell also made such an important, related point about how a Muslim kid should be able to look at the highest office of our land and know that it is possible for him/her to aspire to that position.

Update: Here's the picture Powell refers to in his endorsement, from a photography slide show on Iraq from The New Yorker:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Debate Number Last

I thought this last debate drove home the stances and characters of the candidates, and definitely only pushed me more in the direction of Obama. The moderator mentioned the website "," so I took a look at it. Apparently it's some partnership with MySpace, but all the better to reach more voters I hope. But in the section labeled "video clips" you can look at 67 different clips from the four debates (including the VP debate), each of which is labeled with a given topic. You can also: click on a given topic to see debate clips about that issue; watch any of the debates in their entirety; or answer questions to see which candidate you most line up with. Otherwise, here's a helpful summary of last night's debate I found from James Fallows at The Atlantic (I especially like his last point about not trying to entirely balance the budget yet; also, all of the below writing is his, as it's confusing the way he capitalized,etc.):

"Here's why the third debate, and all three debates, helped Obama so much more than McCain.

In general-election debates, it's a losing strategy to "rally the base." That's what your own campaign events, and your fund-raisers, and your targeted ads, and your running mate are for. Especially by the time of the second and third debates, the job is to "rally the center." That's where most of remaining persuadable and undecided voters are.

Everything about Barack Obama's approach to this debate, and all debates, was consistent with this reality. Almost nothing about John McCain's approach was:

- Obama took every opportunity to steer questions back from campaign tactics to governing issues. ("It's been a tough campaign, and we have hurt feelings, but what really matters is avoiding four more years of...." All quotes here are from memory and therefore approximate, but true to the general spirit.)

- He took every opportunity to talk about "working together" to deal with those issues, ("The reality is, it's going to take Republicans and Democrats working together.")

- He took nearly every opportunity to suggest encompassing rather than polarizing approaches to the substance of those issues. ("Do we want to reduce the cost of health care or expand the coverage? We've got to do both...")

- He took every opportunity to identify areas where he and John McCain actually agreed on approaches. ("I agree with John..." might have seemed an over-used trope in the first debate. This time, very selectively, it helped in the control-the-center strategy.)

- He took most opportunities to remain calm, to stay above the fray, to seem amused rather than frazzled, not to take personal offense. As mentioned earlier, he was not quite as perfectly self-contained as in earlier performances. But compared with McCain, he was the one -- in a good sense -- who had taken Prozac, while McCain seemed to be in a 'roid rage. And because of this general self-possession -- realizing, for instance, that there was only upside in being gracious about Sarah Palin -- when he decided to bear down, as in the breathtaking "At your running mate's rallies, when someone mentions my name they say 'Terrorist' and 'Kill him,'" it was the more powerful.

If you go down the same list, you can see that McCain did just about the opposite on every one of the counts. His most effective rhetorical line was that if Obama wanted to run against President Bush, he could have done so four years ago. (For that matter, so could McCain.) But that was undercut, according to the logic above, by emphasizing tactics over issues, by emphasizing partisan division over conciliation, by body-language contempt for his opponent, and by a demeanor that reinforced the short-tempered and dyspeptic impression from the previous debates.

Whatever the instant polls said, however you lined up the debating flow, the person who was already ahead had a plan that could gain him more support, and the one who was behind played to the base.

Concluding points:

- This format is the winner, compared with all the others we have seen. Forces a kind of personal engagement -- though the fact that this was the third and final round probably made a difference too. Clarifying discussion of actual substance, from health care to abortion, and rawly-honest seeming exchange about the excesses of the campaign.

- Bob Schieffer was a winner, raising provocative issues without being mindlessly horse-race oriented or too obsessed with time. His questions about dirty campaign tactics and about Sarah Palin were exemplary in this regard.

- McCain did not help himself with a number of lapses and minor gaffes, from the nature of Trig Palin's disability to the policy of the DC schools. Nor his Tourette's-like perseveration with the dreaded "overhead projector" in Chicago and hyperbole about Ayers and ACORN, which is allegedly "destroying the fabric of our democracy."

- I love America. In what other country would the finalists for the presidency have the extended "Joe the Plumber" exchanges? On the other hand, I don't want ever to hear about Joe the Plumber again.

- Obama really needs to raise his game when it comes to answering questions about US interactions with China. He fell back on the same old lame "they're manipulating the currency" argument, as simplistic and misleading a slogan as those on other issues he criticizes from McCain.

- This time, McCain looked at Obama (unlike the first debate), and didn't call him "that one" (unlike the second). But he did the equivalent of both in his final statement, addressing Schieffer and others by name and then turning to Obama and saying "and it's been good to be with.... you." Not "you, Senator Obama" or "you, Barack." It was involuntary and gone in a flash, but watch it again and you'll see what I mean.

The net effect of the debates is: they have put Obama in position to win. We'll see what further "game changers" there might be in the remaining 20 days.

Fiscal Affairs UPDATE:

1) It was good to see Obama finally connect McCain's promise of a spending freeze with his desire to spend more for project X or Y. He did it by saying: Great to hear about your focus on autism. But with the spending freeze....

2) Notwithstanding general praise for Schieffer, he like all the other debate moderators seemed to be unduly interested in how either of the candidates is going to "balance the budget."

NEITHER OF THEM IS GOING TO BALANCE THE BUDGET -- nor should they be mainly concerned with trying, right at the moment. We're in the middle of a potential economic collapse. One of the lessons Herbert Hoover inadvertently taught is that you shouldn't try to tighten up on public spending during a huge downturn. For details, see the works of JM Keynes, passim."

Update: Oh, and here's a great ad the Obama camp is out with in response to McCain's proud statement last night that he's not George Bush (as if that was something that was going to throw the whole argument off for Obama and company):

Friday, October 10, 2008

My Mom on Measuring What Matters

What matters most in this election? Professor Sarah O'Connor of James Madison University (JMU)--who I can proudly claim as my keen-minded mother--wrote (and read) the following radio piece for her local NPR station, calling voters to consider what matters most in the election: the candidates' stances on issues or their personal life stories. I can say (neutrally, I believe) that my mom is, for starters, an inventive teacher, dedicated to engaging her college students in both their local and global community--be it through assignments to write their members of Congress on an issue they care about, to write down why they believe what they believe about the world (following the model of the NPR series This I Believe), or to volunteer a certain number of hours in a community organization; those things, and the related community service learning initiatives she's been involved with (which I mention in relation to the candidates' national service plans here), would have changed my college experience in big ways, so I find them worth mentioning. But below is her piece, called "Lipstick Wars," which can also be listened to here, via the radio station she recorded it for:

"This presidential campaign is quickly becoming a campaign of competing narratives. Who has the best personal story? Which story tugs at our heartstrings the most? Who had the most destitute childhood or the worst tragedy in his/her life? McCain advisors urged him to pull out the stops in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention and describe his years as a prisoner of war. (Comedian Jon Stewart later commented that if being a prisoner of war equates with being a leader, maybe we should start thinking of Guantanamo as a leadership training camp.) We’ve heard the speeches and seen the videos with their black and white photos: Obama’s white mother and African father, his grandparents who raised him in Hawaii, and his years as a community organizer before law school; Biden’s wife and daughter who were killed in a car accident just as he was sworn into Congress, his near-death from an aneurysm; McCain’s father and grandfather, both admirals, his military service and captivity; Palin’s snowmobile racer husband, Down syndrome baby, and pregnant teenage daughter.

It is understandable that we are drawn into these stories. Everyone loves a story, and stories are certainly more interesting than listening to a list of issues and proposed solutions. That said, our country is in bad shape. Nearly eight in ten Americans believe it is headed in the wrong direction and Bush’s approval rating is at its lowest level ever. Some of our oldest financial institutions are tanking, people continue to lose their homes, unemployment is rising, the environment is eroding, and we cannot seem to decide as a country whether it is OK to torture our prisoners or not.

I hope I am not coming across as pessimistic, because I also believe that if we have the will as a country, we can solve these problems. What I am saying is that the issues are what this campaign is really all about, and we had better be paying attention to them. Let's forget about whether we like hockey moms or not, how many kids a candidate has and the circumstances of their births, what designer a spouse uses, whether someone is black or white, male or female, and look at where that person stands on basic human rights, on an adequate response to global warming, on what we need to do as a country to fix our economy, on health care for all citizens, on making the world a safe place. The list goes on and on. These are topics that affect every single one of us, and our future as Americans and as global citizens. We do not have to let ourselves be manipulated by emotional appeals or distracted by half-truths and downright lies. We have the ability to make rational decisions, so let’s find out where the candidates stand and vote with our heads as well as our hearts."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

McCain and Palin's Disgusting Campaign

There's not much to say on last night's debate, other than to encourage people to watch the whole thing (available here) and decide for themselves; it seemed to be a pretty accurate picture of the candidates, though there was a helpful NPR piece this morning that did a fact check on the whole thing (most of it seemed to be fair, though I'd say that the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac points need to be more balanced out by the major issues that have been brought up with McCain and his ties to Freddie Mac).

But now to the point of this post: McCain and Palin's recent attacks are not funny, they should not be considered par for the course, they're deeply disturbing. Attacking Obama these past few days, Palin has said things such as the following (from here):

“There is a lot of interest, I guess, in what I read and what I’ve read lately. Well, I was reading my copy of today’s New York Times and I was interested to read about Barack’s friends from Chicago.

“I get to bring this up not to pick a fight, but it was there in the New York Times, so we are gonna talk about it. Turns out one of Barack’s earliest supporters is a man who, according to the New York Times, and they are hardly ever wrong, was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that quote launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and US Capitol. Wow. These are the same guys who think patriotism is paying higher taxes.

“This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America. We see America as the greatest force for good in this world. If we can be that beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy and can live in a country that would allow intolerance in the equal rights that again our military men and women fight for and die for for all of us. Our opponent though, is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country?”

"Palling around with terrorists"??! I cannot find any tolerance in my own heart or head for that; I can only mourn at the over-ambition that would lead one to make such an ugly, deceptive attack. Here's what the very article from The New York Times Palin is quoting from concludes with:

“I saw no evidence of a radical streak, either overt or covert, when we were together at Harvard Law School,” said Bradford A. Berenson, who worked on the Harvard Law Review with Mr. Obama and who served as associate White House counsel under President Bush. Mr. Berenson, who is backing Mr. McCain, described his fellow student as “a pragmatic liberal” whose moderation frustrated others at the law review whose views were much farther to the left.

Some 15 years later, left-leaning backers of Mr. Obama have the same complaint. “We’re fully for Obama, but we disagree with some of his stands,” said Tom Hayden, the 1960s activist and former California legislator, who helped organize Progressives for Obama. His group opposes the candidate’s call for sending more troops to Afghanistan, for instance, “because we think it’s a quagmire just like Iraq,” he said. “A lot of our work is trying to win over progressives who think Obama is too conservative.”

Mr. Hayden, 68, said he has known Mr. Ayers for 45 years and was on the other side of the split in the radical antiwar movement that led Mr. Ayers and others to form the Weathermen. But Mr. Hayden said he saw attempts to link Mr. Obama with bombings and radicalism as “typical campaign shenanigans.”

“If Barack Obama says he’s willing to talk to foreign leaders without preconditions,” Mr. Hayden said, “I can imagine he’d be willing to talk to Bill Ayers about schools. But I think that’s about as far as their relationship goes.”

Obviously Americans think of 9-11 immediately when someone mentions terrorists, so it is not just wrong, it's, again, deeply, deeply disturbing that Palin would throw about these words as though they have no meaning, no consequence. Never--yes never--would I want a president who would manipulate and corrode our sense of honesty and humanity in that way. and similar entities show that both candidates have been misleading at times, but this is way beyond that in so many ways.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

VP Debate - Draw Your Own Conclusions...

The VP debate a few nights ago was something else, but I don't really have any time to say much on it, other than to encourage people to watch it in full--indeed, both candidates could become president. The Washington Post has a great website through which they're covering all of the debates, breaking them into reasonable sections, and analyzing the candidates' answers (or you can just go there and watch the full debate from beginning to end):

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Register to Vote by Oct. 6th in Virginia!!

The VP debate is tonight, and signals the coming end of this whole, crazy, year-and-a-half long process (way too long if you ask me). And so we're to vote now that it's coming to a close right? SO, if you haven't registered, register up!! The deadline to register is sometime in the next four days for almost half of the US--VA's deadline is Monday, the 6th. Info on registering, along with where to go to vote on Nov.4th and how to vote early/absentee, is available here (by the way, you may qualify to vote early if you work outside of the city or county where you are registered; details here for VA, though info for any other states can easily be found by searching online for your state's "board of elections"). As this note from the Obama site points out, things have been close in the past, so your vote matters (whoever you cast it for):

"In 2004, George Bush won Nevada by less than 2.5% of voters, New Mexico by less than 1% of voters, and Colorado by less than 100,000 votes. In Ohio, Bush won by just over 100,000 votes -- less than 10 votes per precinct."

In VA, Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat, only won the state by 9300 votes--so your vote can make a big difference, and, you may know someone who lives in a state that matters even more than your own; considering giving them a call if so.

Now for a plug about why to vote though--whatever side you fall on in the election, there are steps both candidates say they will take on issues such as changing our health care system, setting tax rates, staying in or leaving Iraq, and so on. We are partly responsible for putting into place one of those sets of policies with our vote. So, if a candidate we voted for lowers tax rates, takes us into a given war, or makes health care more or less available, we have to take partial responsibility.

Trouble is, we have to claim some of that responsibility even if we don't vote. I say that because in not voting we're saying, in essence, that the differences between the candidates' proposals (and character) doesn't matter--and I will argue with you to the grave on that, if you'd be willing to. Their differences are huge--ending the war in Iraq (Obama) versus continuing it (McCain); tax cuts for the wealthy (McCain), or not (Obama); tax credits to pay for health care (McCain), or a major reworking of the health care system (Obama); etc., etc. There are differences and the candidates don't claim that there aren't; they represent different philosophies on what government should be and how it should be used. Both claim their approach to governance is the better way to organize people together in a society for the good of the whole--though, I would argue, the good of the few has defined the Republican approach to governing.

As a final note, I would urge you to consider a simple, but potent quote from Plato I've mentioned on here a few times before (the quote, I should say, came to my attention through Phillip Atticus, a neat blog done by a family friend of mine):

"The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."

We get what we ask for, basically, with our vote, our activism, or, our lack of involvement. That said, if you want to have some say in what happens with our country, register to vote here, or go to your city or county's local website, as most have information available on how to register--and consider volunteering and help push for whatever way of governing you agree with!

P.S. - This comes from someone who, unfortunately, didn't even vote in the last two presidential elections. I suppose that makes me all the more interested in encouraging others to get involved; I've felt the differences between being neutral and being involved--and boy, is there a difference. If our country is not helping the most vulnerable, we can sit on the sidelines or we can push to change that; if the wealthy mortgage lenders are screwing potential homeowners by giving out homes to anyone who will take them, then we should call for politicians who have consistently showed interest in regulating business in sensible ways; if health care is not working for many, we can call for it to change. (Or, of course, if you fall on the other side of those issues, you can get out there to fight for and defend them as well.) We can't rewrite the laws ourselves, but we can push for the laws and the politicians behind them to change.