Tuesday, January 22, 2008

There Will Be Blood

Now that the Democratic candidate's herd has been thinned, my analogy of the debates as "American Idol" is no longer valid. Especially after last night's bloodletting in South Carolina, which was more reminiscent of the old "Monday Nitro" World Championship Wrestling matches than a variety show. Bill and Hillary had conquered the countryside of Nevada and entered the S.C. primary as the grizzled old tag-team known as "HillBilly," famous for their sneaky and aggressive tactics and taunts to their opponents. Their target was the up-and-comer, the All American Boy, Obama, who was threatening to capture HillBilly's fan base. Hillary immediately attacked Obama with such ferocity that I half expected Bill to run out from the wings and brain him with a folding chair. Wolf Blitzer would make a great pro wrestling referee. He is the Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart of broadcasters. I can't decide whether he is a whimpering simp, or a simpering wimp. Hillary shed the softer, indoor voice she had discovered in New Hampshire and returned to form. She and the former President are considering changing the name of the act to Shrillary and Billious.

In the week leading up to the debate, I was reminded each time Bill Clinton turned red in the face and wagged his finger, how much I do not want him back in the White House. Hillary explained that she and Obama both have passionate and supportive spouses. Michelle Obama, however, is not the former president nor a practiced negative campaigner, as evidenced by the hatchet work Bill did on Barack in his wife's behalf. The dislike between the two camps was made clear with every charge and explosive counter-charge, like two nuclear powers practicing brinkmanship with Mutually Assured Destruction. Obama said he was a community organizer while Hillary was "a corporate lawyer, sitting on the board of Wal-Mart." Hillary countered with charges that Obama did work for a law firm that defended a Chicago slum lord. Both charges were spurious. Barack's law work was for his firm, and Hillary, as First Lady of Arkansas, assumed that included Bentonville and the Waltons too, who were just down-home folks and constituants. All this bitter back and forth between Clinton and Obama made one thing clear; John Edwards deserves a second look.

While the revolutionary candidates were bludgeoning one another, the white, Christian, male candidate steadily made the case for carrying out the ideals of Dr. King on his birthday. Edwards is the only candidate who has spoken passionately about ending poverty in America, something that was abandoned after the death of Dr. King and the absorption of the nation's resources into the Vietnam War. Edwards is the only candidate who has pledged not to have former lobbyists work in the White House and to tackle the problem of corporate money influencing our elections and those we elect. In addition, Edwards has promised to remove our troops from Iraq within his first year without equivocation. While Obama was extolling the abilities of Ronald Reagan to a Reno newspaper this week, it is worth remembering that John Edwards began his candidacy for President in the 9th Ward of New Orleans. Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy in Philadelphia, MS, home of one of the most infamous killings of the civil rights era, and symbolism only an Old South, Son of the Confederacy could love. Obama disavowed any admiration for Reagan on this Dr. King's day. Edwards did long ago.

CNN mercifully allowed the candidates to sit after a commercial break, and civility seemed to break out amidst a bar fight. The rivals became more measured and respectful to each other, and even spoke candidly and with humor about their differences. It is exhilarating to see these three unique people, each qualified in a special way and eager to serve in a manner the Bush crowd could never fathom, and have gender and race secondary to the discussion. That is remarkable enough to distance themselves by light years from the Republicans without endangering the party by behaving in debate like Curly, Larry, and Moe, with Bill Clinton waiting in the wings as Shemp. And anyone who thinks Bill Clinton was our first black president hasn't really heard him play the saxophone. After tonight, independent South Carolinians, including many African Americans, may well swing Edwards' way just because of the content of his character. Then we will have a real race heading into the Super Tuesday debates. My only suggestion; less glares, more chairs.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Slick Hilly

"But she breaks just like a little girl"
Bob Dylan: "Just Like A Woman"

Forgive me if I've become so cynical that I mistake a genuine emotional moment for a slick piece of political theatre, but for the past seven years, I've gotten used to listening to "The boy who cried Wolfowitz." Before Hillary's emotional crying game in the middle of a public Q&A, I could swear I saw her reach up and pull a single hair from her nose before the tears began to form. Even the question, "How do you do it," seemed like a plant from a staffer; a trick she has used before. I have difficulty believing that anything that happens in the Clinton campaign goes unscripted. This is the woman that remained stoic even after being publicly humiliated by her husband, and now she tears up saying, "I just don't want to see the country fall back?" If someone spends her entire senate career amassing votes to appear like the "Iron Lady," then you're not allowed to cry when your positions are criticized. And you set yourself apart when you pick a favorite color for your campaign staff to wear. At least we don't have to listen to the wretched Celine Dion tune she had previously selected as her theme song.

Hillary continued to refer to her "35 years in public service." Thirty-five years ago in New Hampshire, the front-runner was Edmund Muskie of Maine and his openly weeping over an editorial that vilified his wife cost him the primary and the nomination. So much for the double standard. Of course, Bill could weep on cue so perhaps it's a shared trait. I don't mind a politician crying. I even find it refreshing. But crying at inappropriate moments is as shallow as laughing at the wrong time; something else Mrs. Clinton does when under pressure. Sure, the guys ganged up on her at the debate, but she gave as good as she got. What raised sympathy was the moderator's remarks to her about other candidates being more likable. Is there a more foolproof way to insult a woman than telling her she is unliked? And would the moderator have framed his remarks the same for the men?

Give credit to the Clintons for being fast learners. In one day, she changed her message from being the tested candidate with all the political experience, to the candidate of "change" who's appeal is to the young. The visage of her Iowa concession speech with a virtual morgue of supporters standing with her, including Bill, Madeline Allbright, and Wesley Clark, had been totally revamped for this evening. No one that stood behind her tonight looked over twenty years old, even though their on-camera hijinx began to distract from the candidate. The original "Comeback Kid," was told to get out of the way, while Hillary said that listening to the people of New Hampshire caused her to "find my own voice." Say what? Where's her "own voice" been for the thirty-five years of political change she continues to mention? It was elaborate stage-management, right down to her notes.

John McCain read an acceptance speech also, but not as well as Hillary. Still, the sight of the winners reading with their heads down made them appear as stiff as Al Gore. The speech of the night, of course, belonged to Obama who did not use notes. Visibly disappointed, Obama delivered another stirring and emotive speech that offered a slogan for the remainder of the campaign; "Yes we can," which was reminiscent of MLK in his prime, and left his audience rapturous. Since Obama spoke before Hillary, I was reminded of the famous story from the Fifties about the fight between Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry over who was going to be the closing act on a rock show. Berry refused to go on before Lewis, so Jerry Lee literally delivered an incendiary performance. At the end of his set, with the crowd going wild, Jerry Lee doused his piano with lighter fluid and set it aflame. As he was leaving the stage, he walked by Chuck Berry in the wings saying, and I'm paraphrasing, "Follow that you sonofabitch." Tonight the part of Jerry Lee Lewis was played by Barack Obama while Hillary sang, "It Goes To Show You Never Can Tell."

So the fight is on and it looks to get quite interesting. Will the Goldwater girl who served on the House Committee to Impeach Nixon change her scarf color from green to pink to appear more vulnerable? After saying that "all candidates records should be open," do we get to see the Rose Law Firm billing statements? Did Bill create sympathy by saying that he couldn't make her younger, or will machine politics yet again vanquish a children's crusade? Since I began with a Dylan quote, allow me to end with another:
"The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now,
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'."

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Dawn

While watching the news last night, I experienced an emotion that was so foreign to me, I had to pause a second in order to recognize it. It's called hope, and it is alive. The Obama victory in the Iowa caucuses said volumes about in which direction this country wants to go. Going into election day in a dead heat, Obama didn't merely win, he trounced his opponents and pushed the proverbial lady in waiting to an undistinguished third place. If that weren't history enough, the rousing spectacle of Obama's victory speech in front of a cheering audience bordering on ecstasy was something I have not seen since 1968. If it's always darkest before dawn, Bush is the darkness and Obama is the sunrise.

I admit to being an emotional man who is both gladdened and saddened far too easily, but Obama's electrifying address caused me to weep at the realization that this improbable candidate is both the political and spiritual heir to Robert Francis Kennedy, and our nation finally has another chance at redemption from decades of hubris, arrogance, and greed. Obama put together a coalition of old and young, and rich and poor. I would say black and white, but there aren't many African Americans in Iowa. I have visited Iowa in winter and its' citizens this time of year are mainly blue. But the most astounding number of the night was not that Barack won by eight points over John Edwards and nine points over Hillary, but that he won 35% of the woman's vote compared to Clinton's 30%. Can you say Oprah?

Only a few weeks ago, the mainstream media was speaking of the Clinton inevitability, thus proving the openly and often spoken suggestion that network and cable news programs are bad entertainment who's spokesmen are mainly full of bullshit, and once courageous and groundbreaking newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times are now merely shills for their corporate masters. So the Obama thumping caught them by surprise and left them wild-eyed with fresh speculation. Columnist Eugene Robinson of the Post made the Robert Kennedy comparison and presidential advisor David Gergen referenced Martin Luther King in Obama's speaking style. But thanks to C-Span, the no commentator network, it was clear that something electric, extraordinary, and groundbreaking was happening in that room during Obama's speech.

I trust the speech will be shown again and I hope that you are able to see it. I know the Orange Bowl was more important to some than the Iowa caucus, but something akin to a movement was born last night that will only grow larger with time. With the New Hampshire primary only five days away, I see no way for the Clintons to regain any momentum. She is the establishment candidate and the populace is sick of the establishment. Her entire senate career of triangulation and calculation has come to naught. All those carefully calibrated Senate votes in trying to show herself as the candidate with the most machismo has come a cropper. Didn't Dorothy Rodham ever tell her daughter "To thine own self be true?" My wife, Melody, called Clinton, "Bush in a pants-suit." By contrast, Obama is the real deal; consistent, eloquent, inspiring.

One additional bit of amazement for me was that Obama's race was barely a factor in voters' minds, as much as the need for sweeping change. If whites in Iowa will vote for Obama without a second glance at this country's ever-lingering racial discord, then something truly historic has happened. MSNBC analyst Howard Fineman described it as a generational shift where racial differences just aren't that meaningful to young people who grew up in an integrated society. I see it in my own step-son whose friendships with his peers, both white and black, are seamless. It would be well to remember, however, that scores of past campaign trails are littered with those sorrowfully unelected who depended on the support of the young. If Iowa is an indicator, maybe it will be different this time around. Maybe.

If young people would come out and vote, I would gladly relinquish the reigns of power that my generation seized, but badly misused. My generation was split in twain a long time ago and the two sides of that divide have now been represented by the brilliant but morally flawed Bill Clinton, and the maritally faithful but grossly incompetent George Bush. It's time to turn the page on the Bushes, the Clintons, and their respective philosophies of centrist pandering and right-wing extremism. I am tired of fighting the Vietnam War over again and arguing about someone's personal sexual decisions, especially now that there's a democracy to be saved; ours. For the so-called "values voters," who twice elected re-born Bush, don't dream of a Huckabee presidency. Though Huckabee talks more like a Jimmy Carter Christian than a George Bush Christian, President Zero has tarnished and distorted the faith and proven the absolute necessity of separation of church and state. It will be sweater weather in hell before a self-proclaimed Evangelical is elected president again on the basis of his religion. And to the Bush supporters, if there are any left who will admit it, allow me to quote Sir Paul McCartney;
" Boy, you're going to carry that weight a long time."