Saturday, April 19, 2008

Comments to Hillary Campaign

I've been getting e-mail from Geoff Garin of Hillary Clinton's campaign soliciting comments about strategy, encouragement to Hillary, and so on.

Here's a somewhat better developed version of my reply.

1. Dissociate herself from the Nineties. The Hillary campaign needs to completely separate her from the DLC/triangulation politics of the 1990's. Reducing Mark Penn's role, criticizing NAFTA, and lowering Bill Clinton's profile are steps in that direction. But more steps need to be taken. Hillary should speak more about the value of labor unions, the importance of working class men and the sacrifices they make for their families, the importance of raising wages, and the importance of reducing the disparity between CEO's and working-class people. The Bill Clinton administration shifted away from the "New Deal Democratic" coalition by being distancing themselves from labor unions, black people, and the poor and embracing deregulation. Although Hillary has already started the shift back, she should be more emphatic about it.

2. Renounce the Bush Doctrine. Hillary also needs to highlight her determination to withdraw from Iraq by also renouncing the Bush doctrine of attacking anybody who is an emerging threat and treating anybody who disagrees with us as an enemy. I get comments from a lot of people on both the right and left that Hillary won't "really" withdraw from Iraq. Renouncing the whole Bush doctrine might make her more convincing on that score.

3. Embrace the "activist" Democratic base. It was reported yesterday or today that Hillary made some negative comments about and the activist "white" Democratic base after Iowa. She should do a 180 turn and embrace MoveOn, the liberal blogs, and Media Matters (which she helped get started didn't she) and their opposition to the war, support for environmental initiatives, and passion for racial and gender justice. Lots of people on the left view Hillary as more progressive than Obama. The activist left also has the kind of partisan, fighting spirit that Hillary herself is trying to exemplify. Hillary needs to nail her association with the left by openly identifying herself with progressives. In terms of her disagreements, she should emphasize that she agrees with progressive ideals but that it is also important to compromise with other constituencies and deal with some of the the unintentionally negative consequences of progressive initiatives.

4. Finally, Hillary needs to keep coming at Obama from several angles at the same time. For some reason, Democrats generally think that pounding away at one theme ad nauseum is the best way to do things. It's not. Of course, the risk of attacking Obama is that lots of Democrats don't like going negative on other Demcrats. But I don't think the Hillary campaign is in a position to do anything else.

Obviously, Hillary's behind. But she can still win and should be pushing as hard as she can.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Personality Driven News Media

I want to start with Glenn Greenwald hammering the mainstream media again about their "petty personality-driven" reporting on presidential candidates.
Most certainly, the press will pretend to be above it all ("this is not something that we, the sophisticated political journalists, care about, of course"). But they yammer about Drudge-promoted gossip endlessly, and then insist that their own chattering is proof that it is an important story that people care about. And because they conclude that "people" (i.e., them) are concerned with the story, they keep chirping about it, which in turn fuels their belief that the story is important. It is an endless loop of self-referential narcissism—whatever they endlessly sputter is what "the people" care about, and therefore they must keep harping on it, because their chatter is proof of its importance.

Greenwald's right about the media and he's also right to keep hammering the media. Here's a couple of additional points.

1. An Embargo on Substance. One has to wonder whether a focus on "petty, personality-driven issues is a "ticket to admission" to the major mainstream media as well as the dominant mode of reporting. Perhaps the best way a young up and coming reporter can get on the air is read Drudge, catch up on Rush Limbaugh, and try to make Republican talking points sound like news. The embargo on substance might not just be a product of vapid media personalities; it might be a whole system where only the vapid survive.

2. Personality Politics Without Personality. One of the things about the media being obsessed with personality is that the mainstream media itself doesn't have that much personality. There's television personalities on the right like Sean Hannity and some of the Fox people. But the mainstream network guys like Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson, George Stephanopolous aren't all that distinguishable and neither are their reporters. Katie Couric is still known more as a morning show personality than a news personality. Sure, Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann have personalities but they're also outside the loop.

No matter how it's sliced, television is a personality driven media. Perhaps the mainstream media focuses on political personalities as a way to make up for its own personality deficit.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

But I'm Still for Hillary

And here's some reasons.

1. Damage to Obama's Candidacy. Now that that Barack Obama is the candidate of no flag lapel pin (I don't wear one either), the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and bitter white people, he's much more of a normal politician than "a once-in-a-lifetime candidate who has the skill and eloquence to help us raise our eyes and our aspirations beyond individual, personal concerns, beyond religion or region or race or gender beyond our well-founded fears to a shared destiny."

Frankly, I like Obama better now that he's at least knee deep in the muck of American society and politics and thinking about why it's so tough (which is what Obama was doing with the "bitterness" remark). The "raise our eyes and our aspirations beyond individual, personal concerns, beyond religion or region or race or gender beyond our well-founded fears to a shared destiny" idea sounds like pseudo-fascist crap. I'm not just throwing around the "Nazi" word either. Hitler talked a lot about lifting the German people above their "individual, personal concerns" as well.

2. Young People Aren't All That Great. I've worked with college students in Kentucky for most of the last twenty years and I can say with a lot of conviction that young people haven't gotten beyond "baby-boomer/Vietnam/segregation-era hangups" about race, gender, gay rights, abortion, patriotism or any of the other issues from the Vietnam era. The thing I can see that's really faded into cultural irrelevance is Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" which was still popular when "Wayne's World" came out in 1992 (and we can all be grateful for that). But the rest of it is still there. Not that things have gotten significantly worse, but anyone who thinks that young people have escaped the evils of the past needs to reflect on school shootings, pornography, violent video gaming, date rape drugs, and the pervasiveness of heavy-duty binge drinking. Just to mention one thing that has gotten worse, college guys seem much more misogynous than they were 30, 15, or even 10 years ago.
It's precisely because of the limitations on her constituencies that Hillary Clinton strikes me as much more "large D" democratic than Obama. That's a good reason to support her.

3. She's prepared. Hillary knows full well that either her or Obama would have to deal with powerful reaction against their persons and their policies once they're elected. The next four years are going to be tough. Withdrawing from Iraq is going to be a bitter pill for the right-wing and the military to swallow and it's going to be made tougher with the general atmosphere of bitterness over the recession, gas prices, the revelation of yet more scandals from the Bush administration, and the general Bush hang-over. Hillary will be ready on Day 1 because she has an idea of just how bad things are going to be. Likewise, the American public knows what it's going to get with a Hillary presidency.

To the contrary, Obama won't be ready because he thinks that he's going to generate something approaching consensus. And the American public won't be prepared for the fact that he's not ready either. Four years of Obama sounds like four years of disillusion that I would rather live without.

4. A False Premise. The only way that an Obama presidency could work is if the activist right-wing was eliminated as a powerful force in American society. Perhaps an Obama victory could lead to people no longer listening to the Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters. However, I frankly don't see it.

A Strong Case for Obama from Philly Daily News

Here's a strong case for Barack Obama from the Philadelphia Daily News.

A candidate's campaign may be the best indicator of how she or he will
govern. If so, an Obama administration would be well-managed, inclusive and
astonishingly broad-based. It would make good use of technology and communicate
a message of unity and, yes, hope.

It would not be content with eking out slim victories by playing to the narrow interests of the swing voters of the moment while leaving the rest of the country as deeply divided as ever. Instead, an Obama administration would seek to expand the number of Americans who believe that they have a personal stake in our collective future - and that they have the power to change things.

It would motivate them to hold their representatives accountable for making it happen. That is, after all, the only way to get us out of Iraq, to address global warming, to make us energy-independent. It's the only way to resist the forces arrayed against providing universal health care, rebuilding our infrastructure and returning our schools to world-class status. It's the only way to give our children the means to compete with children in other parts of the world who are healthier,
better-educated and have more opportunities than many of our own.

An Obama administration would be freer of the the corrupting influence of big-money donors and corporate interests. Obama has raised $240 million overall, with half coming in contributions of less than $200. People who contribute to political
campaigns can feel they "own" a candidate and so Obama would owe allegiance to
the wide swath of America that has financed his campaign.

Based on his experience in running a quarter-billion-dollar enterprise with thousands upon thousands of volunteers, we could expect an Obama administration to be
well-managed and cost-effective, with the president choosing forward-thinking
advisers committed to his program, demanding that they work as a team and pay
attention to details.

He would be steady and calm, given neither to irrational exuberance or outbursts of anger. He would make mistakes, that's for sure, but he could be expected to recognize them, adjust, and move forward. He would adjust his views to reality rather than trying to adjust reality to his views.

Obama's unprecedented appeal to younger voters is significant not only because it expands the electorate, which is vital. It's also a validation of his promise as a president to be free of the baby-boomer/Vietnam/segregation-era hangups.

Younger people are more egalitarian, more accepting of diversity, and more comfortable with rapid change. They also are less confined by old resentments or regrets.

AND AN OBAMA administration would lower the tone of the rhetoric that separates us.

As New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has said, Obama is a once-in-a-lifetime candidate who has the skill and eloquence to help us raise our eyes and our aspirations beyond individual, personal concerns, beyond religion or region or race or gender, beyond our well-founded fears to a shared destiny.

Most candidates claim that they will change the way business is done in Washington. Barack Obama has made us believe that, yes, he can. *

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Pope and the War Criminal

In Search of . . . I'm still looking for someone among my Catholic friends in Morehead who's interested in the Pope's visit. Maybe he's not that inspirational of a leader.

Meeting with the War Criminal in Chief. It seems that Pope Benedict XVI met today with President Bush.
The festive White House visit was the highlight of the first full day of Benedict's first trip to the United States as leader of the world's Roman Catholics. A South Lawn arrival ceremony — which also turned into a celebration for Benedict's 81st birthday, complete with energetic singing and a several-tiered cake prepared by the White House pastry chef — was followed by 45 minutes of private talks between Bush and Benedict, alone in the Oval Office.

After the revelations about the approval of torture practices during "Principles Meetings" among Bush's top officials at the White House, Bush has about as much moral standing as Francisco Franco or Jefferson Davis. One can say that Benedict is endorsing Bush's war crimes by meeting with him. Unfortunately, one can also say that the whole country endorsed Bush's war crimes by re-electing him president in 2004.

Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, John Ashcroft, and their principle assistants should all be prosecuted for their role in the post-9-11 war crimes of the American government.

But all of us as Americans should all be ashamed that these people were elected to the highest office in our country. That includes people who opposed the war, opposed Guantanamo, and opposed the torture. We also should have done better.

There's a great deal of reason to criticize the Catholic Church hierarchy for their hostility to the aspirations of women Catholics, their hatred of gay people, and their execrable involvement in the pedophilia scandal.

But American government hierarchy has done far worse.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Waiting for the Dandelions

The big event of spring has almost arrived--the Dandelion Bloom. With pure yellow petals surrounding a golden inner ring, dandelions are a beautiful plant and are in fact hard to surpass when they're in full bloom. But what makes dandelions great is the quality for which they're so much despised--their super-tough hardiness. When the dandelions bloom, they're everywhere and no amount of spraying and digging can get rid of them.

People think of dandelions as weeds because they're so plentiful and because they don't need any human cultivation. But that's just a reflection of the grip of the middle-class sense of order on our minds. The fact that dandelions are everywhere does not diminish their beauty a single degree.

In fact, I would argue that the blanketing of yards with dandelions adds a major element to the beauty of the spring--

If only people could see an uncultivated multitude as beautiful.

The Audit is Done!!

Finally, the academic audit for the Government Program. After going through all the materials, I felt very optimistic about the Government Program and rated it highly.

But maybe I'm not an unbiased observer.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Is the Pope Dope?

The answer is Nope. Pope Benedict XVI is visiting the U. S. this week and my Catholic household has reacted by . . . not saying, doing, or seemingly thinking anything about it. RSI the atheist brought up the Pope's visit to Mrs. RSI but she was profoundly uninterested. Miss Teen RSI didn't know the Pope was coming at all because it wasn't on Jon Stewart. Ten year old Miss Tween RSI was moved to say "Yeah its all right" when queried.

According to Mrs. RSI, there was an item in last month's church bulletin about the Pope, but the local parish isn't exactly motivated by his visit either.

The problem is this. Mrs. RSI is a liberal Catholic who wants to remain Catholic despite her disgust with the Catholic Church over their refusal to let women serve as priests, their position on gay rights, and their general conservatism. If Mrs. RSI is forced to think about the highly conservative Pope, she'd most likely start wondering if she should attend another church.

Given that there's no hope for the pope, it's probably good for the Catholic Church that people like Mrs. RSI aren't paying attention. Otherwise, a lot of liberal Catholics would just leave the church.