Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Clinton Redux?

Apparently some “critics” believe that President-elect Obama should not be choosing so many staffers with ties to the Clinton administration if he really is all about the “change” that was promised during his campaign. My response to that is (1) when the critic is that nasty, whining Republican “strategist” Leslie Sanchez, who I spent many a pre-election moment wishing would evaporate from my TV screen, I’m not inclined to give any credence to the criticism, and (2) how can he NOT pull in members of his new team from that era of administration? The world is not full of people with some experience in the business of running the country, and if the common campaign complaint against Obama was that he had no experience, then it only makes sense that he surrounds himself with people who do. Obama is the president, not anyone else, so if he wants governance not to be business as usual then that is the mandate he has to set with his team, and if they want to keep their jobs then they will follow it.

That said, I am not in love with the idea of Hillary Clinton as secretary of State, and there are media reports that she might not be, either. She is “agonizing” over the decision because she “likes to be her own boss.” I can understand that, particularly when her new boss would be the person who beat her out for the job. And of course there’s the little matter that it might be construed as tacky when she tries to steal her boss’ job away when she wants to run for president again in 2012 and will undoubtedly have to insult him and his policies again at that time. She is certainly qualified for the job, but why would Obama want to bring all that drama and her enormous ego (not to mention that of her once-great and now horrifying caricature of a husband) into his Cabinet? Would she even be able to restrain herself from putting forth her own policy positions to foreign leaders if she didn’t agree with Obama? She simply isn’t one to play second fiddle, and that’s fine. She shouldn’t take the job.

And why did Obama even offer her the position? Is it a case of “keep your enemies closer”? Or did he know she would balk at taking the position so he felt he could offer it to her and still look like the good guy when she turned it down? Did he think it would be a way to get the eternally slighted and angry Bill Clinton off his back? Or perhaps he genuinely thinks she’s the best person for the job, since she does have a good relationship and familiarity with so many foreign leaders. But I doubt it. Obama is as much of a politician as the rest of them, so there must be a motive in there somewhere.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I’ve had an election hangover. Barely managing to scan the headlines each morning, I haven’t much cared what’s going on during this transition period. Even all my addictive partisan news shows have lost their luster. It’s hard to stay too engaged when all the same horrible problems continue to face the country today and for now we still have the worst president in American history. And how are we addressing our most immediate and largest problem – the ever downwardly-spiraling economy? With the incredible juggernaut that is “The Bailout.”

The Bailout, also euphemistically known for a brief period as the “rescue package” before reverting to its harsher but more accurate descriptor, is something to behold as it spreads like slime into every crevice of American business. I’m a liberal and all that, but is every last segment of the economy planning to take NO responsibility for getting itself into this predicament, and instead come to Uncle Sam, hat in hand? The argument is that the situation is now so dire that finger-pointing will not solve the crisis and something simply has to be done immediately to stanch the bleeding.

Yes. It was imperative that AIG receive a second influx of the taxpayers’ money when the first wasn’t enough to fund those corporate jaunts to plush resorts or the bonuses to which management believed it was still entitled, and it was imperative that the homeowners who didn’t read their own contracts or bother to check their figures adequately receive some kind of relief to stay in their homes to which they, as Americans, are entitled. And now it’s essential that an industry of companies that largely refused or failed to develop products that could compete on some level with foreign automakers receive a massive influx of cash so that they don’t close down and put thousands of “real Americans” out of work.

Perhaps my sympathy would have flown as freely as our government’s cash if the greedy financial companies hadn’t already sucked up all my goodwill. Frankly, a failing auto industry, even if that failure is somewhat of their own making, is a more compelling recipient of government funds than grossly overpaid financial types who twisted the system for their own staggering gain and now mewl about it while the rest of the country pays the price. But where does it all end, and where does this money come from?

What would happen if the Republicans’ prized market economy was allowed to experience the brunt of its own mistakes and excess? I guess the government would be paying for it one way or another.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sarah Palin, We Hardly Knew Ye.

And boy, do I like it that way. Some may think she is destined to be the next big thing in the Republican Party, but I’m skeptical. It’s pretty clear that her mode of politics was resoundingly rejected by the American public, much to John McCain’s chagrin. After all, when he brought her on board to re-energize his base and bring over independents, she flat-out failed. Not at energizing his Christian conservative base; as a delightfully groomed embodiment of all they hold dear, she did that extremely well. But she alienated and even repulsed independents and moderate Democrats. Many were insulted by the notion put forward by the McCain campaign that she was ready for prime time. After a mandate such as the one given to Barack Obama, how is Governor Palin’s singular brand of divisiveness going to become more attractive 4 years from now?

A larger question is whether there will be redemption for John McCain. He followed up a horrible campaign with a moving, eloquent concession speech that reminded us of what was likeable about him in the first place. If only he had remained true to his old persona during his campaign, the one that had won him friends and grudging admirers on both sides of the aisle, who knows how the election would have turned out.

But he did not. McCain either allowed himself to be manipulated by his advisers or showed his own true colors – neither option being an appealing one. He is still the senior senator from Arizona, and there is no reason to believe that will change any time soon. He can still enjoy his power, even if he has to endure ribbing about his choice of VP, and maybe even anger that he did so much to help the Republicans lose. Or, as is more likely, the Republicans can write the loss off to a nation so dissatisfied with George Bush that they were only going to elect a Democrat this time no matter who the Republicans ran against them. And John McCain can resume his role of tetchy old troublemaker until he dies in office.

In the meantime, the Democrats have some serious fixin’ to do.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hope - Triumph or Defeat.

I keep reading that America will make history today regardless of the candidate that we choose: we will either have our first African-American president, OR the delightful twofer of the oldest elected President and the first woman vice-president. Somehow, Option Two doesn’t sound like history to me, other than that by electing the Crypt Keeper and his batshit sidekick into office we would be writing America’s obituary into the history books.

Try as I might, which is not very hard, I can’t see the 10 week joyride that Sarah Palin will have taken into office as a great historical stride for women, nor do I see electing the oldest white guy ever into office to be of positive import. Who cares? All that election would say to me is we are a nation of fools, clinging to a loveless marriage with our idealization of a glorious past instead of opening our minds to the possibility of a glorious future.

Call me “defeatist” or “un-American,” but my feminist dream of electing a woman into the second highest executive office in the land didn’t include (1) the second highest office at all, or (2) some hard line Republican’s wet dream of a prettily packaged, cold-eyed power monger whose only hint of true compassion is for special needs children and fetuses. Rather, it included somebody exceedingly smart and capable, who worked hard herself for the prize, and didn’t have it handed to her purely as a cynical ploy by that oldest living white man in his own search for glory.

So I will settle for electing the first African-American man into office, and if I let go of my last lingering resentment that women ALWAYS come in second, then it’s not settling at all. It’s sheerly and powerfully wonderful. How incredible that the day has finally come where, if the polls are correct, a majority of Americans will elect someone into office who represents the very best of what America has to offer to the world: a person who is a true face of what America has become – an increasingly assimilated cultural melting pot - and what it needs to be – a country that values intelligence and thoughtfulness; that prizes education.

Black Americans get to experience something today that I can only imagine: seeing themselves represented as a candidate for the (until recently) most respected job in the world. To see what education and hard work can help you to accomplish – what incredible possibility for our children!

Please let today be the triumph of hope and possibility over:

Dirty politics
Outdated notions of what makes America great.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Countdown to Something.

Almost every poll and every pundit is calling the race for Obama. I will not believe it until I see it. After the last eight years, which to me and others represent such a giant slap in the face to democracy, I can’t help but wonder not if, but how, the darkest, battleship gray of the right wing is going to steal this election.

Has it already happened in a “democratic” way, meaning that McCain will win a majority of the electorate because he has sufficiently convinced the “real America” that Barack Obama consorts with, and obviously is himself, a Muslim Socialist Terrorist who Hates America? Or will Americans have rejected McCain’s divisive techniques to win power for himself? If that’s so, and the victory is actually clear, then what will the neo-cons do? Start a bigger war in the Middle East? Threaten Iran with a nuclear holocaust? Sorry, America, it’s just not safe to transition power to the new president right now! You’ll have to wait until we give you the green light… and don’t hold your breath.

Perhaps this sounds like an overreaction on my part, but recent history has been damaging. The actions of this administration and its shady, behind-the-scenes operatives are like a cement block around the feet of my trust with respect to believing they would follow the rule of law when it doesn’t suit them.

I just want this to be over with so I can know whether my faith in America (on many levels) should be restored, or whether I need to accept that the country is full of too many people who just don’t share the same priorities as I do.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Giving Us Something We Can Feel.

I had had my doubts about the Obama “infomercial” that was going to be broadcast on seven major stations last night. I didn’t trust Americans to be too happy about having their escapist sitcoms or the World Series pre-game show pre-empted by some black guy talking about his life. It had the potential to be so cloyingly self-serving, so presumptuous – it was risky.

And I still don’t know how your average American perceived it. I expect that it’s like much else; if you had already planned to vote for Obama, you still will, and if you didn’t, you still won’t. But if you had already been planning to vote for Obama – boy, can you feel really, really good about it.

Obama has a wonderful voice; perfectly suited to narration, and to conveying a sense of calm reassurance. “Hey,” it soothes, “I’ve got your back. Stick with me and everything is going to work out OK.” And it turns out that while the commercial had plenty of subtle reassurances that he is just like any other American – raised by a single mother with a strong work ethic who spent the last weeks of her life fighting with insurance companies over health care coverage – it was not at all heavy handed. In fact, the commercial was much more about letting people know that he understands the true dilemmas that are facing Americans.

Vignettes of four families were presented to make his point. In each case, because of some kind of all too typical circumstance, the families found themselves struggling to make ends meet and to hold on to what they had. An older couple in Ohio had owned their house outright, but had had to take out a mortgage on it when her medications became too expensive to afford with their retirement savings. The husband had to cut short his retirement and go back to work. The scene of him clipping his Wal-Mart badge onto his vest was poignant and, for me, thought-provoking.*

Each of these stories ripped at my heart, as they were surely designed to do, and their purpose was clear. The “left” is all too often painted by the Republicans as disconnected from the problems and the values of average Americans, which is, of course, ridiculous. The Republicans discovered the common man themselves only recently, and they’ve been trying to sell him a bill of goods ever since. These stories showed not only that Obama recognizes the average American and understands his or her problems, but that he has devoted real time to thinking about those problems and coming up with solutions. His goal was to show that he “gets” America – and he did.

*Thought-provoking because on one hand, to some Wal-Mart represents the worst example of a monolithic corporation that has insinuated itself into our communities and pushed out smaller businesses that can’t compete. On the other, it seems to have provided a lot of these post-retirement jobs for people who either need or want to keep working. But which came first? Is Wal-Mart a cause or a solution to the problem?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Biting the Hand that Feeds Her.

Apparently some members of the McCain campaign believe that Sarah Palin has become a “rogue” candidate, refusing to follow campaign instructions in favor of saying what she chooses, when she chooses. Her reason for such behavior, some staffers opine, is that she knows the McCain ship is sinking and she is positioning herself for her own run in 2012.

I say, go for it. Maybe she thinks she can portray herself in a more appealing light than she did under the campaign’s restrictions and tutelage, but I’m doubtful. Why? Because Sarah Palin is not that smart. Canny? Yes. Cunning? You betcha. Savvy? Getting there. But what a president truly needs, she is lacking in spades. She can make snotty comments about Katie Couric’s interview all she wants – about how she guesses she let her annoyance show when she thought the questions she was asked were stupid or irrelevant – but it’s only a diversion tactic. Her interview with Ms. Couric, as well as her earlier one with Charles Gibson, didn’t show her to be annoyed. It showed her to be ill-prepared, not particularly smart, decidedly “unready” for the role of vice president, and generally somewhat unlikable to all but the most devotedly knee-jerk Republican. You know, the ones who come to rallies either:

1. with their hair straight out of the blender, muttering about how Obama is a Muslim and a Socialist;

2. with their hair smoothed into a shiny helmet, vapid smiles hiding years of suppressed fury with their rich husbands who have treated them monstrously in exchange for allowing them to spend their overblown salaries;

3. with the bright light of Jesus in their eyes, looking fervent and slightly insane and confident their strict morality is the best thing for and about America; or

4. with their shirts off, beer guts hanging over their jeans as they proclaim how “hot” the vice-presidential candidate is.

So, you know, an illustrious group, and one made up of individuals I’m so pleased have the right to vote.

At Sarah Palin’s rally on Sunday, she was joined by the most exhausting and whiny Elizabeth Hasselbeck from the View. Ms. Palin and Ms. Hasselbeck, against the wishes of the McCain campaign, spent several minutes prattling on about how it was so very uninteresting that the Republican Party had spent $150,000 on clothes for Ms. Palin, and how it was a sexist double standard and nobody would waste a moment on the news that a man had spent that kind of money at Brooks Brothers. Ms. Palin asserted that she had returned most of the clothes and that she was back to her consignment duds from Wasilla, and indeed she was wearing a pink jacket that had seen better days. Ms. Hasselbeck, on the other hand, was wearing a lime green coat that was clearly a very expensive, designer garment. If the desired effect was to paint Governor Palin as her own woman, it failed. Instead, she spent far too much time on what was, just as she said, a trivial and petty issue. Worse, she undermined her own attempt to reassert her “commonness” by backing herself up with the insubstantial fashion plate Ms. Hasselbeck as her cheerleader.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) for the McCain campaign, Ms. Palin returned quickly to her themes of her empathy for “Tito the Builder,” “Joe the Plumber” and “Cindy the Citizen,” and to her mantra of “I’m not saying Obama’s a socialist, but it sure looks like it, doesn’t it?” But if Governor Palin really wants to distance herself from this campaign and position herself as a more appealing candidate in 2012, then she needs to recognize the obvious: this campaign has been a lesson for the history books in how not listening to what the people want can lose an election for you. In this case, the people wanted candidates to reject the divisive, nasty, partisan rhetoric that plagued the last several elections. McCain and Palin rather gleefully rejected that wish, and with luck that will prove fatal to their campaign.

To win over an electorate that by and large thinks she is woefully unqualified to hold a national office, Ms. Palin needs to spend the next four years refashioning herself as someone who wants to bridge divides rather than simply impose her harsh version of reality, prettied up as it is in a syrupy, home-spun cocoon of folksiness, on the world. And reading a few books on American history and politics wouldn’t hurt, either. She needs to at least school herself adequately to bluff her way through a few puff-piece interviews.