Saturday, April 28, 2007

Tell theTruth: Are You A Liar?

So when did you first realize our country was led by liars? Was there a particular incident, campaign or speech resulting in an epiphany? Did a cynical role model let you know our country’s decision makers could not be trusted to tell the truth?

For me it was at the age of fifteen in 1984. I was watching television when a campaign commercial for Mary Mochary, who challenged New Jersey incumbent Senator Bill Bradley, was aired. On screen appeared President Ronald Reagan sitting behind his desk at the oval office. I’ve tried to find a transcript or even footage of this commercial online but haven’t had any luck. So, I’m relying on memory.

As I remember it Reagan said, “I’m not the sort of fellow to tell another person how to vote, but I support Mary Mochary.” It was something like that. And Reagan had this self-effacing aw shucks expression when he said it. I later learned Reagan aired similarly scripted commercials on behalf of other Republican candidates that year.

It just amazed me how an American president, arguably the most political persona in the world could say with a straight face, “I’m not the sort of fellow to tell another person how to vote.” At fifteen I was politically aware. I knew Reagan was a former governor of California and had previously campaigned for president before defeating Jimmy Carter in 1980. Hence, this was somebody who told people who to vote for quite often.

The lie itself was harmless. It wasn’t about arms for hostages, the Contras or the phony war on drugs. Nevertheless, the memory stands out as the moment when I internalized how politicians would even shamelessly lie about small things. And we therefore had to listen to their words with critical ears because if they could lie about something small, a big lie was just around the corner.

Three years later, I was disillusioned when California Senator Alan Cranston was exposed as one of the infamous Keating Five. In the summer of ’86, I sent Cranston $100 which at seventeen wasn’t peanuts. Cranston was in a tough reelection fight and I admired his stance on nuclear disarmament. So in 1987, when I watched Senator Warren Rudman of New Hampshire who sat on the Senate Ethics Committee roughly question Cranston in public, I was devastated. I had believed in him.

In 1992 I supported Paul Tsongas for president. I disagreed with his economic positions but believed Tsongas was the most honest candidate seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination that year. Sadly, Tsongas wasn’t honest about his recovery from cancer and he died in 1997.

You get older and learn life isn’t always so black and white. None of us are pure and the best of us have moral lapses. And in a world of nuance, lies become easy to rationalize. Many of us lie in our personal and professional lives. We lie to our boss as our boss lies to us. We tell “white lies” to our family and friends. In the movie “The Departed,” Vera Farmiga’s character admitted she lied to keep things on an “even keel.” And she proceeded to live a lie while cheating on Matt Damon. Later she dumped Matt Damon upon learning about his lies. More often than not the “even keel” Farmiga’s character refers to are lies to preserve a self-serving image we’ve constructed.

In America our politicians and military leadership have lied for all kinds of reasons. In 1960, President Eisenhower was caught in a lie following the Gary Powers U2 spy plane incident. Embarrassing but Americans didn’t hold it against Eisenhower. It was the Cold War and the public believed their president had his heart in the right place about protecting our national security.

John Kennedy partly won the presidency in 1960 by lying about a “missile gap” with the Soviet Union that didn’t exist. President Lyndon Johnson lied about the pretext for war in Vietnam while his Pentagon misinformed the public about our "success." President Nixon lied about Vietnam as well as not being a crook and President Clinton practiced in front of mirror before telling the world, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.”

One person’s shit is another’s ice cream and some lies are considered necessary. Americans were largely in the dark about FDR’s polio and he lied about his true intentions during World War Two. He promised to keep America out and manipulated behind the scenes as best he could to put us in the conflict. Yet FDR’s place in history is secure. The Axis Powers had to be defeated to ensure our survival and a different president might have appeased Hitler. Hence we don’t judge FDR harshly for misleading about his health or war plans. FDR’s lies are deemed good lies.

Americans don't judge Clinton overly harshly either. Many of us are guilty of similar offenses and would’ve lied to protect our marriages, families and reputations. His testimony about the word “is” will always remain the butt of jokes but most Americans would gladly take him back. A friend recently confided to me that his marriage ended when his wife caught him in the act while he cheated on her. Unable to come up with a convincing lie he said, “honey it’s not what it looks like.” I don’t judge him harshly for it. Nor am I judgmental about Clinton or Vera Farmiga’s character. They didn’t lie maliciously. For them lies were shields against human frailty.

So, one could say that lies are simply part of the human condition and our leaders reflect this reality. Nonetheless, from my vantage point, a culture of destructive lying has become dangerously pervasive in recent years. This decade, corporations such as Enron shamelessly lied to their shareholders and dutiful employees, Jayson Blair hoodwinked the New York Times and Dick Cheney stood before the Republican Party National Convention in 2000 and promised the country a “stiff dose of the truth.”

Ironically, the same President Bush who promised a restoration of honor and integrity has become synonymous with lies – too many to summarize here. His Attorney General can’t keep track of his own lies. Former CIA director George Tenet has written a memoir whining about his “slam dunk” lie being taken out of context. And there are the shameful lies from the Pentagon about Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch. If that's not bad enough, the Bush Administration is pathologically devoted to covering up evidence about global warming. From Kartina to Iraq, how many people have died because of all these lies? And how many more deaths are to come?

Recently, my Dad sagely observed to me in a telephone conversation, “None of this is new. I’ve seen all this stuff before. All politicians are full of it. They’ll always be full of it. That’s life.” Perhaps. And when it comes to life and politics, my Dad, like many Dads is a human oracle of experience and wisdom. But I remain optimistic because within this morass of deceit, a counter-culture of truth is emerging.

As our institutions and the mainstream media fail to deliver the truth, a hunger for reality is expressing itself among the people. Hence, we have the ascendancy of blogs. It’s undisciplined and irreverent out here. One has to be a discriminating consumer among thoughtful bloggers and those who are simply rhetorical bomb throwers. But there are golden nuggets of truth among ordinary people challenging elites about their destructive lies, disinformation and exploitation.

One of my favorite blogs may not be known to you and belongs to a dear personal friend, Kaiser Permanente – Corporate Ethics. My friend was an employee of Kaiser who lost her job because she’s an honest person. Her story is a long and complicated one and best learned from reading her blog. Her life is hard and she is unable to post as frequently as she’d like. Nonetheless, her site has become a repository for exposing the lies and cover-ups of Kaiser Permanente.

Not surprisingly, Kaiser mobilized their legal and PR machine to personally destroy her. But she perseveres as a courageous beacon of light against their greed culture of lies and malfeasance. More than once I observed to her that Kaiser reminds me of the Bush Administration. And as she put it to me once, “That’s because the people inside the Bush Administration come from corporate cultures such as Kaiser where truth can be tossed away like a can of tuna fish.” As only she could put it. It’s largely because of her inspiration I joined the blogosphere fray.

And there are the bloggers we know about such as JoshMarshall of Talking Points Memo, who pushed the story of the unscrupulous dismissal of the U.S. Attorneys. Marshall’s success at emphasizing a story the mainstream media initially ignored, illustrate how the façade of deceit so dutifully served and enabled by inside the beltway pundits such as David Broder, Joe Klein and David Brooks is finally cracking.

And I’m a part of it too in my own way. Of course I’m not the sort of fellow to tell another person how to vote.
My thanks to Mike Finnigan for including me in his most recent blogroundup on Crooks and Liars.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Are We A Country?

For all the polarization that exists in America along political, racial, religious and class lines, we’re all part of a larger community. As a New Yorker I felt that in the early days following 9/11. I had that feeling after the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City. Sadly, our sense of community has eroded in recent years as the gap between rich and poor has widened while cynical politicians exploited wedge issues in “base elections.”

The shooting spree of Seung-Hui Cho illustrates a breakdown in the American community. Seung-Hui Cho is not an aberration. Plenty of mentally ill people in this country go untreated. Some are incarcerated for petty crimes and commit suicide. Others, such as Seung-Hui Cho, are able to purchase guns and reconcile their cumulative rage against the world through mass murder. In this instance, Virginia Tech University was powerless to intervene and respond to warning signs without the threat of litigation.

There is also the horrifying fact that the judicial system declared Seung-Hui Cho a danger to himself. Yet he was still able to purchase firearms. The ongoing debate between those who are pro-gun rights and people like me who strongly advocate gun control is an example of our community breakdown. The debate has become a zero sum game instead of a national dialogue to come together and propose solutions.

Extremists in the pro-gun camp would have you believe it better to arm more Americans. Their rationale is an armed citizenry can better protect itself from the Seung-Hui Chos of the world. With all due respect to these citizens, an armed America in schools and shopping malls is utterly moronic. Their pathological fetish to transform America into the wild-west captured in television programs such as Bonanza or Gun Smoke won’t curb violence and senseless killing.

Gun control however is only part of the answer. American society itself is regulated by a jugular instinct. Greed and consumption is valued over sacrifice and a sense of responsibility towards the greater good. On that score we’re all to blame in some measure.

Ultimately, we’re not likely to see gun control anytime soon in this country. Neither party has the strength or will to take on the gun lobby. Hopefully, all sides of the divide in urban and rural American can reach a consensus on three core points:

1) Too many guns wind up in the wrong hands;

2) Only law abiding and mentally competent people should possess firearms;

3) Greater investment combined with a sensible balance between privacy rights and society's needs are required for our mental health system to work.

If Americans can’t come together on those three points we don’t deserve to be called a country.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Immoral, Insipid & Incompetent

So help me, I almost felt sorry for Attorney General Gonzales today. He’s ensnared by so many irreconcilable public misstatements, half-truths and lies. At times, it seemed the Senate Judiciary Committee was guilty of child abuse against the overmatched Attorney General.

Any feelings of sympathy were easily jettisoned, when I recalled how Gonzales established the legal regime of torture during Bush’s first term when he was White House Council. There is also the diabolical role Gonzales played regarding the Bush Administration’s domestic surveillance program. Predictably, after his testimony the Bush Administration expressed public confidence in their collaborator at raping the Constitution. Overall, Attorney General Gonzales's leadership of the Justice Department has been immoral, insipid and incompetent. In that regard, Gonzales reflects the President he serves. As with any organization, the fish rots from the head down.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A Few Words About Don Imus

As readers of this blog know, my day job has prevented me from posting more frequently in recent weeks. Thankfully, this project consuming so much of my time should be concluded in another ten days.

In the meantime, I wanted to put in my two cents about the Don Imus controversy. Ironic that as we approach the sixtieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s Major League Baseball debut, Don Imus's tastless joke about the Rutgers University women's basketball team cost him his radio job.

Sixty years ago that would've been unthinkable. In Jackie Robinson’s lifetime, hate speech was common in the public square. Father Coughlin for example stoked anti-Semitism on his radio program as the Holocaust raged in Europe. Imus is hardly the rabble-rouser or hate monger Father Coughlin was. Nor is he as bad as more contemporary radio personalities such as the infamous Bob Grant who polluted the airwaves with racist diatribes for three decades. Nonetheless, I’m gratified at the condemnation Imus received. I readily acknowledge the man’s charitable work but it doesn’t excuse the damage he’s caused throughout his career.

What especially irked me is how Imus ignored a basic rule we all learned on the playground: pick on somebody your own size. These are kids without a platform to fight back. For that alone Imus deserved to be fired. If people want to accuse me of “political correctness” so be it. Imus would have never apologized if people had remained silent.

I’m also irked by celebrity elites such as senators John McCain and Chris Dodd who frequently appeared on his program. Their appearances allowed Imus to enjoy a veneer of legitimacy and that in turn ceded legitimacy to his over the top sexism and bigotry. More than Don Imus is guilty for the power and influence he wielded in his career. He had plenty of enablers and we should never forget that.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Memo To Conservatives: George W. Bush Is Not An Aberration

Conservatives want you to believe the presidency of George W. Bush is an aberration. Those of us in the reality-based community understand the Bush Administration can’t be separated from conservative ideology. The blowback of the Bush years is in fact the collective legacy of Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, Trent Lott, Dick Cheney, Tom DeLay, Dick Hastert, John McCain, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the rest of the feculent conservative cabal.

Take a moment to read the text of New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s keynote address to the 1984 Democratic National Convention below or click here to listen to it. Whether you read or listen to Cuomo’s words from twenty-three years ago, it’s remarkable how relevant his speech is today. His repudiation of Ronald Reagan echoes across time as conservatives have eviscerated our infrastructure, debased public education, disintegrated the middle class, neglected veterans, sacrificed universal healthcare to profit industry raped our Constitution, exploited fear and pursued recklessly immoral foreign policies. Hopefully, 2008 will not simply be a slight changing of the pendulum but signal a new era of sense, compassion, and progress. The direction Mario Cuomo spoke of in 1984.

“Thank you very much.

On behalf of the great Empire State and the whole family of New York, let me thank you for the great privilege of being able to address this convention. Please allow me to skip the stories and the poetry and the temptation to deal in nice but vague rhetoric. Let me instead use this valuable opportunity to deal immediately with the questions that should determine this election and that we all know are vital to the American people.

Ten days ago, President Reagan admitted that although some people in this country seemed to be doing well nowadays, others were unhappy, even worried, about themselves, their families, and their futures. The President said that he didn't understand that fear. He said, "Why, this country is a shining city on a hill." And the President is right. In many ways we are a shining city on a hill.

But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city's splendor and glory. A shining city is perhaps all the President sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there's another city; there's another part to the shining the city; the part where some people can't pay their mortgages, and most young people can't afford one; where students can't afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate.

In this part of the city there are more poor than ever, more families in trouble, more and more people who need help but can't find it. Even worse: There are elderly people who tremble in the basements of the houses there. And there are people who sleep in the city streets, in the gutter, where the glitter doesn't show. There are ghettos where thousands of young people, without a job or an education, give their lives away to drug dealers every day. There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces that you don't see, in the places that you don't visit in your shining city.

In fact, Mr. President, this is a nation -- Mr. President you ought to know that this nation is more a 'Tale of Two Cities' than it is just a 'Shining City on a Hill.'

Maybe, maybe, Mr. President, if you visited some more places; maybe if you went to Appalachia where some people still live in sheds; maybe if you went to Lackawanna where thousands of unemployed steel workers wonder why we subsidized foreign steel. Maybe -- Maybe, Mr. President, if you stopped in at a shelter in Chicago and spoke to the homeless there; maybe, Mr. President, if you asked a woman who had been denied the help she needed to feed her children because you said you needed the money for a tax break for a millionaire or for a missile we couldn't afford to use.

Maybe -- Maybe, Mr. President. But I'm afraid not. Because the truth is, ladies and gentlemen, that this is how we were warned it would be. President Reagan told us from the very beginning that he believed in a kind of social Darwinism. Survival of the fittest. "Government can't do everything," we were told, so it should settle for taking care of the strong and hope that economic ambition and charity will do the rest. Make the rich richer, and what falls from the table will be enough for the middle class and those who are trying desperately to work their way into the middle class.

You know, the Republicans called it "trickle-down" when Hoover tried it. Now they call it "supply side." But it's the same shining city for those relative few who are lucky enough to live in its good neighborhoods. But for the people who are excluded, for the people who are locked out, all they can do is stare from a distance at that city's glimmering towers.

It's an old story. It's as old as our history. The difference between Democrats and Republicans has always been measured in courage and confidence. The Republicans -- The Republicans believe that the wagon train will not make it to the frontier unless some of the old, some of the young, some of the weak are left behind by the side of the trail. "The strong" -- 'The strong,' they tell us, 'will inherit the land.'

We Democrats believe in something else. We democrats believe that we can make it all the way with the whole family intact, and we have more than once. Ever since Franklin Roosevelt lifted himself from his wheelchair to lift this nation from its knees -- wagon train after wagon train -- to new frontiers of education, housing, peace; the whole family aboard, constantly reaching out to extend and enlarge that family; lifting them up into the wagon on the way; blacks and Hispanics, and people of every ethnic group, and native Americans -- all those struggling to build their families and claim some small share of America. For nearly 50 years we carried them all to new levels of comfort, and security, and dignity, even affluence. And remember this, some of us in this room today are here only because this nation had that kind of confidence. And it would be wrong to forget that.

So, here we are at this convention to remind ourselves where we come from and to claim the future for ourselves and for our children. Today our great Democratic Party, which has saved this nation from depression, from fascism, from racism, from corruption, is called upon to do it again -- this time to save the nation from confusion and division, from the threat of eventual fiscal disaster, and most of all from the fear of a nuclear holocaust.

That's not going to be easy. Mo Udall is exactly right -- it won't be easy. And in order to succeed, we must answer our opponent's polished and appealing rhetoric with a more telling reasonableness and rationality.

We must win this case on the merits. We must get the American public to look past the glitter, beyond the showmanship to the reality, the hard substance of things. And we'll do it not so much with speeches that sound good as with speeches that are good and sound; not so much with speeches that will bring people to their feet as with speeches that will bring people to their senses. We must make -- We must make the American people hear our "Tale of Two Cities." We must convince them that we don't have to settle for two cities, that we can have one city, indivisible, shining for all of its people.

Now, we will have no chance to do that if what comes out of this convention is a babel of arguing voices. If that's what's heard throughout the campaign, dissident sounds from all sides, we will have no chance to tell our message. To succeed we will have to surrender some small parts of our individual interests, to build a platform that we can all stand on, at once, and comfortably -- proudly singing out. We need -- We need a platform we can all agree to so that we can sing out the truth for the nation to hear, in chorus, its logic so clear and commanding that no slick Madison Avenue commercial, no amount of geniality, no martial music will be able to muffle the sound of the truth.

And we Democrats must unite. We Democrats must unite so that the entire nation can unite, because surely the Republicans won't bring this country together. Their policies divide the nation into the lucky and the left-out, into the royalty and the rabble. The Republicans are willing to treat that division as victory. They would cut this nation in half, into those temporarily better off and those worse off than before, and they would call that division recovery.

Now, we should not -- we should not be embarrassed or dismayed or chagrined if the process of unifying is difficult, even wrenching at times. Remember that, unlike any other Party, we embrace men and women of every color, every creed, every orientation, every economic class. In our family are gathered everyone from the abject poor of Essex County in New York, to the enlightened affluent of the gold coasts at both ends of the nation. And in between is the heart of our constituency -- the middle class, the people not rich enough to be worry-free, but not poor enough to be on welfare; the middle class -- those people who work for a living because they have to, not because some psychiatrist told them it was a convenient way to fill the interval between birth and eternity. White collar and blue collar. Young professionals. Men and women in small business desperate for the capital and contracts that they need to prove their worth.

We speak for the minorities who have not yet entered the mainstream. We speak for ethnics who want to add their culture to the magnificent mosaic that is America. We speak -- We speak for women who are indignant that this nation refuses to etch into its governmental commandments the simple rule "thou shalt not sin against equality," a rule so simple -- I was going to say, and I perhaps dare not but I will. It's a commandment so simple it can be spelled in three letters: E.R.A.

We speak -- We speak for young people demanding an education and a future. We speak for senior citizens. We speak for senior citizens who are terrorized by the idea that their only security, their Social Security, is being threatened. We speak for millions of reasoning people fighting to preserve our environment from greed and from stupidity. And we speak for reasonable people who are fighting to preserve our very existence from a macho intransigence that refuses to make intelligent attempts to discuss the possibility of nuclear holocaust with our enemy. They refuse. They refuse, because they believe we can pile missiles so high that they will pierce the clouds and the sight of them will frighten our enemies into submission.

Now we're proud of this diversity as Democrats. We're grateful for it. We don't have to manufacture it the way the Republicans will next month in Dallas, by propping up mannequin delegates on the convention floor. But we, while we're proud of this diversity, we pay a price for it. The different people that we represent have different points of view. And sometimes they compete and even debate, and even argue. That's what our primaries were all about. But now the primaries are over and it is time, when we pick our candidates and our platform here, to lock arms and move into this campaign together.

If you need any more inspiration to put some small part of your own difference aside to create this consensus, then all you need to do is to reflect on what the Republican policy of divide and cajole has done to this land since 1980. Now the President has asked the American people to judge him on whether or not he's fulfilled the promises he made four years ago. I believe, as Democrats, we ought to accept that challenge. And just for a moment let us consider what he has said and what he's done.

Inflation -- Inflation is down since 1980, but not because of the supply-side miracle promised to us by the President. Inflation was reduced the old-fashioned way: with a recession, the worst since 1932. Now how did we -- We could have brought inflation down that way. How did he do it? 55,000 bankruptcies; two years of massive unemployment; 200,000 farmers and ranchers forced off the land; more homeless -- more homeless than at any time since the Great Depression in 1932; more hungry, in this world of enormous affluence, the United States of America, more hungry; more poor, most of them women. And -- And he paid one other thing, a nearly 200 billion dollar deficit threatening our future.

Now, we must make the American people understand this deficit because they don't. The President's deficit is a direct and dramatic repudiation of his promise in 1980 to balance the budget by 1983. How large is it? The deficit is the largest in the history of the universe. It -- President Carter's last budget had a deficit less than one-third of this deficit. It is a deficit that, according to the President's own fiscal adviser, may grow to as much 300 billion dollars a year for "as far as the eye can see." And, ladies and gentlemen, it is a debt so large -- that is almost one-half of the money we collect from the personal income tax each year goes just to pay the interest. It is a mortgage on our children's future that can be paid only in pain and that could bring this nation to its knees.

Now don't take my word for it -- I'm a Democrat. Ask the Republican investment bankers on Wall Street what they think the chances of this recovery being permanent are. You see, if they're not too embarrassed to tell you the truth, they'll say that they're appalled and frightened by the President's deficit. Ask them what they think of our economy, now that it's been driven by the distorted value of the dollar back to its colonial condition. Now we're exporting agricultural products and importing manufactured ones. Ask those Republican investment bankers what they expect the rate of interest to be a year from now. And ask them -- if they dare tell you the truth -- you'll learn from them, what they predict for the inflation rate a year from now, because of the deficit.

Now, how important is this question of the deficit. Think about it practically: What chance would the Republican candidate have had in 1980 if he had told the American people that he intended to pay for his so-called economic recovery with bankruptcies, unemployment, more homeless, more hungry, and the largest government debt known to humankind? If he had told the voters in 1980 that truth, would American voters have signed the loan certificate for him on Election Day? Of course not! That was an election won under false pretenses. It was won with smoke and mirrors and illusions. And that's the kind of recovery we have now as well.

But what about foreign policy? They said that they would make us and the whole world safer. They say they have. By creating the largest defense budget in history, one that even they now admit is excessive -- by escalating to a frenzy the nuclear arms race; by incendiary rhetoric; by refusing to discuss peace with our enemies; by the loss of 279 young Americans in Lebanon in pursuit of a plan and a policy that no one can find or describe.

We give money to Latin American governments that murder nuns, and then we lie about it. We have been less than zealous in support of our only real friend -- it seems to me, in the Middle East -- the one democracy there, our flesh and blood ally, the state of Israel. Our -- Our policy -- Our foreign policy drifts with no real direction, other than an hysterical commitment to an arms race that leads nowhere -- if we're lucky. And if we're not, it could lead us into bankruptcy or war.

Of course we must have a strong defense! Of course Democrats are for a strong defense. Of course Democrats believe that there are times that we must stand and fight. And we have. Thousands of us have paid for freedom with our lives. But always -- when this country has been at its best -- our purposes were clear. Now they're not. Now our allies are as confused as our enemies. Now we have no real commitment to our friends or to our ideals -- not to human rights, not to the refuseniks, not to Sakharov, not to Bishop Tutu and the others struggling for freedom in South Africa.

We -- We have in the last few years spent more than we can afford. We have pounded our chests and made bold speeches. But we lost 279 young Americans in Lebanon and we live behind sand bags in Washington. How can anyone say that we are safer, stronger, or better?

That -- That is the Republican record. That its disastrous quality is not more fully understood by the American people I can only attribute to the President's amiability and the failure by some to separate the salesman from the product.
And, now -- now -- now it's up to us. Now it's up to you and to me to make the case to America. And to remind Americans that if they are not happy with all that the President has done so far, they should consider how much worse it will be if he is left to his radical proclivities for another four years unrestrained. Unrestrained.

Now, if -- if July -- if July brings back Ann Gorsuch Burford -- what can we expect of December? Where would -- Where would another four years take us? Where would four years more take us? How much larger will the deficit be? How much deeper the cuts in programs for the struggling middle class and the poor to limit that deficit? How high will the interest rates be? How much more acid rain killing our forests and fouling our lakes?

And, ladies and gentlemen, please think of this -- the nation must think of this: What kind of Supreme Court will we have?

Please. [beckons audience to settle down]

We -- We must ask ourselves what kind of court and country will be fashioned by the man who believes in having government mandate people's religion and morality; the man who believes that trees pollute the environment; the man that believes that -- that the laws against discrimination against people go too far; a man who threatens Social Security and Medicaid and help for the disabled. How high will we pile the missiles? How much deeper will the gulf be between us and our enemies? And, ladies and gentlemen, will four years more make meaner the spirit of the American people? This election will measure the record of the past four years. But more than that, it will answer the question of what kind of people we want to be.

We Democrats still have a dream. We still believe in this nation's future. And this is our answer to the question. This is our credo:

We believe in only the government we need, but we insist on all the government we need.

We believe in a government that is characterized by fairness and reasonableness, a reasonableness that goes beyond labels, that doesn't distort or promise to do things that we know we can't do.

We believe in a government strong enough to use words like "love" and 'compassion' and smart enough to convert our noblest aspirations into practical realities.

We believe in encouraging the talented, but we believe that while survival of the fittest may be a good working description of the process of evolution, a government of humans should elevate itself to a higher order.

We -- Our -- Our government -- Our government should be able to rise to the level where it can fill the gaps that are left by chance or by a wisdom we don't fully understand. We would rather have laws written by the patron of this great city, the man called the "world's most sincere Democrat," St. Francis of Assisi, than laws written by Darwin.

We believe -- We believe as Democrats, that a society as blessed as ours, the most affluent democracy in the world's history, one that can spend trillions on instruments of destruction, ought to be able to help the middle class in its struggle, ought to be able to find work for all who can do it, room at the table, shelter for the homeless, care for the elderly and infirm, and hope for the destitute. And we proclaim as loudly as we can the utter insanity of nuclear proliferation and the need for a nuclear freeze, if only to affirm the simple truth that peace is better than war because life is better than death.

We believe in firm -- We believe in firm but fair law and order.

We believe proudly in the union movement.

We believe in a -- We believe -- We believe in privacy for people, openness by government.

We believe in civil rights, and we believe in human rights.

We believe in a single -- We believe in a single fundamental idea that describes better than most textbooks and any speech that I could write what a proper government should be: the idea of family, mutuality, the sharing of benefits and burdens for the good of all, feeling one another's pain, sharing one another's blessings -- reasonably, honestly, fairly, without respect to race, or sex, or geography, or political affiliation.

We believe we must be the family of America, recognizing that at the heart of the matter we are bound one to another, that the problems of a retired school teacher in Duluth are our problems; that the future of the child -- that the future of the child in Buffalo is our future; that the struggle of a disabled man in Boston to survive and live decently is our struggle; that the hunger of a woman in Little Rock is our hunger; that the failure anywhere to provide what reasonably we might, to avoid pain, is our failure.

Now for 50 years -- for 50 years we Democrats created a better future for our children, using traditional Democratic principles as a fixed beacon, giving us direction and purpose, but constantly innovating, adapting to new realities: Roosevelt's alphabet programs; Truman's NATO and the GI Bill of Rights; Kennedy's intelligent tax incentives and the Alliance for Progress; Johnson's civil rights; Carter's human rights and the nearly miraculous Camp David Peace Accord.

Democrats did it -- Democrats did it and Democrats can do it again. We can build a future that deals with our deficit. Remember this, that 50 years of progress under our principles never cost us what the last four years of stagnation have. And we can deal with the deficit intelligently, by shared sacrifice, with all parts of the nation's family contributing, building partnerships with the private sector, providing a sound defense without depriving ourselves of what we need to feed our children and care for our people. We can have a future that provides for all the young of the present, by marrying common sense and compassion.

We know we can, because we did it for nearly 50 years before 1980. And we can do it again, if we do not forget -- if we do not forget that this entire nation has profited by these progressive principles; that they helped lift up generations to the middle class and higher; that they gave us a chance to work, to go to college, to raise a family, to own a house, to be secure in our old age and, before that, to reach heights that our own parents would not have dared dream of.

That struggle to live with dignity is the real story of the shining city. And it's a story, ladies and gentlemen, that I didn't read in a book, or learn in a classroom. I saw it and lived it, like many of you. I watched a small man with thick calluses on both his hands work 15 and 16 hours a day. I saw him once literally bleed from the bottoms of his feet, a man who came here uneducated, alone, unable to speak the language, who taught me all I needed to know about faith and hard work by the simple eloquence of his example. I learned about our kind of democracy from my father. And I learned about our obligation to each other from him and from my mother. They asked only for a chance to work and to make the world better for their children, and they -- they asked to be protected in those moments when they would not be able to protect themselves. This nation and this nation's government did that for them.

And that they were able to build a family and live in dignity and see one of their children go from behind their little grocery store in South Jamaica on the other side of the tracks where he was born, to occupy the highest seat, in the greatest State, in the greatest nation, in the only world we would know, is an ineffably beautiful tribute to the democratic process.

And -- And ladies and gentlemen, on January 20, 1985, it will happen again -- only on a much, much grander scale. We will have a new President of the United States, a Democrat born not to the blood of kings but to the blood of pioneers and immigrants. And we will have America's first woman Vice President, the child of immigrants, and she -- she -- she will open with one magnificent stroke, a whole new frontier for the United States.

Now, it will happen. It will happen if we make it happen; if you and I make it happen. And I ask you now, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, for the good of all of us, for the love of this great nation, for the family of America, for the love of God: Please, make this nation remember how futures are built.

Thank you and God bless you.”

Friday, April 06, 2007

Note To My Readers and A Comment About Religious and Atheist Extremists

As some readers may have noticed, my posts haven’t been as frequent the previous two weeks. My employer has me working on an ambitious project requiring heavy overtime and the deadline is April 24th. I will post with greater frequency after that date. My plan is to at least compose essay posts on Sundays if time allows and hopefully write short commentaries during the work week about current events.

I appreciate the patience and understanding of my readers during this period. It frustrates me not being able to blog more frequently regarding the issues I'm passionate about. Alas, even we bloggers must eat and have a roof over our heads.

In the meantime, allow me to comment on E.J. Dionne’s column in today's Washington Post entitled, “Answers To Atheists.” It’s a provocative read as the liberal Dionne writes about the dogma of militant atheists and religious fundamentalists:

“The neo-atheists, like their predecessors from a century ago, are given to a sometimes-charming ferociousness in their polemics against those they see as too weak-minded to give up faith in God.

What makes them new is the moment in history in which they are rejoining the old arguments: an era of religiously motivated Islamic suicide bombers. They also protest the apparent power of traditionalist and fundamentalist versions of Christianity.

As a general proposition, I welcome the neo-atheists' challenge. The most serious believers, understanding that they need to ask themselves searching questions, have always engaged in dialogue with atheists. The Catholic writer Michael Novak's book ‘Belief and Unbelief’ is a classic in self-interrogation. ‘How does one know that one's belief is truly in God,’ he asks at one point, ‘not merely in some habitual emotion or pattern of response?’

The problem with the neo-atheists is that they seem as dogmatic as the dogmatists they condemn. They are especially frustrated with religious ‘moderates’ who don't fit their stereotypes.”

Dionne reminded me of my recent experience with “neo atheists” on the blogosphere. Some time ago I wrote a post entitled, “Wanted: An Atheist Candidate For President” and received hate email from atheists! As it is I regularly receive hate emails from conservatives. Since I started blogging Christian fundamentalists have been especially hateful in their emails.

But receiving hate email from atheists at the time really stunned me. One of these insipid people actually wrote I was being too “respectful” of religious people and was no better than Pat Robertson! Meanwhile, Pat Robertson thinks secular liberal Jews like me have a one-way ticket to hell. Sadly, both extremes feed off each other and faciliate even more hatred.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

So Who Has That Vision Thing?

So how do you select the candidate you support for President? Is it issues? Hair? Charisma? Perhaps you’re persuaded by an impressive resume? Ideology? Is it their religion or ethnicity? A single issue that for you dwarfs any other consideration? And if you’re a Democrat or Republican, how do you know when candidate X is the one you support to be your party’s nominee? Perhaps you reject both parties completely and prefer nominees of third parties such as the Greens or Libertarians?

As a liberal Democratic Party activist, I’ll know the candidate I support when I’m compelled to knock on doors and phone bank in get out the vote (GOTV) efforts. Activism is disruptive to one’s life. It has to be coordinated around one’s work schedule and personal life. Often done after hours, on weekends and at the expense of more pleasurable activities.

Hence, I need to be inspired by a candidate before I sign up and help in their effort to become president. Inspiration is not something easily quantified. We know inspiration when we feel it. So, what are the ingredients that inspire activists to stuff envelopes and get doors slammed in their faces? What are we looking for in our next president?

Henry Adams, an American historian and the grandson and great grandson of two presidents once said that a president "resembles the commander of a ship at sea. He must have a helm to grasp, a course to steer, a port to seek." The first President Bush contemptuously described this as “the vision thing.”

Inspiring vision may come from unpredictable sources. Not many regarded FDR as a transformational figure prior to 1932. He was an ambitious politician often talking out of both sides of his mouth. Ironically, one month after becoming the Democratic Party’s nominee in 1932, FDR criticized incumbent President Herbert Hoover about government spending:

"Let us have the courage to stop borrowing to meet continuing deficits. Revenues must cover expenditures by one means or another. Any government, like any family, can, for a year, spend a little more than it earns. But you know and I know that a continuation of that habit means the poorhouse."
Ultimately, FDR governed with a very different vision and responded to the Great Depression with heavy deficit spending. The New Deal combined with FDR’s leadership in World War Two elevated this deal-making pragmatist into a transformational agent of change. Through an activist government, FDR presided over a vision of economic fairness and helped liberate millions from Hitler’s tyranny.

In 2004, activists such as myself were inspired by a single vision: deposing Bush. Bush/Cheney had set the American house aflame and I wanted him out of power before it burned down completely. I didn’t sense much of a vision from Kerry and I didn’t care. He wasn’t Bush and that was enough.

Now I’m looking for a candidate who can “force the spring” as Bill Clinton put it in his 1993 inaugural speech. I want to support a candidate that is an agent of transformational change and renewal. Admittedly, I am setting the bar high. There is no perfect formula for determining which if any candidate meets such a criteria. In most campaigns for public office I ask myself three questions about prospective candidates:

1) What do they know?
2) What have they done?
3) What are they going to do?

At this point, there is only one candidate among the announced field in the Democratic Party that intrigues me: John Edwards. His record on Iraq troubles me but I’m starting to believe Edwards is sincere about learning from his mistake. Edwards has also demonstrated life perseverance following the loss of a teenage son. His wife is an inspiring model of perseverance as she supports the campaign in spite of cancer.

Several years ago my Dad and I were talking about a particular individual who seemed to lack empathy. My Dad observed this was someone who would benefit from life, “knocking him on his ass.” Edwards has the knowledge of someone who has been “knocked on his ass” through emotional trauma. I’m impressed with how both he and his wife responded to tragedy.

This is also a self-made man. His critics or as Katie Couric would put it, “some people” might say you can’t trust a man who made his fortune as a trial lawyer. I see a man who rose from humble beginnings and became a champion advocate for aggrieved individuals against concentrated corporate power. That is what Edwards has done with his life. Indeed, Edwards life is far more impressive to me than a garden-variety insider’s resume. When conservatives speak of tort reform they’re talking about stopping effective advocates such as John Edwards from helping the common person stand up to entrenched power.

To this point Edwards has been admirably specific about what he intends to do. His healthcare plan is serious and substantial. On issues ranging from global warming to taxes, John Edwards has not shied away from articulating an activist progressive agenda. Listening to John Edwards makes me think of FDR when he spoke of the “forgotten man” in 1932:

"He works, he votes, generally he prays - but he always pays - yes, above all, he pays. He does not want a political office. He is the one who keeps production going. He is strongly patriotic. He is wanted whenever, in his little circle, there is work to be done or counsel to be given. He gives no trouble. He is not in any way a problem (unlike tramps and outcasts); or notorious (unlike criminals); or an object of sentiment (unlike the poor and the weak); or a burden (unlike paupers and loafers). Therefore, he is forgotten. All the burdens fall on him - or on her, for it is time to remember that the Forgotten Man is not seldom a woman."
I’ll wait a bit longer. I want to observe how the candidates conduct themselves through the fishbowl of presidential politics for a few more months. Perhaps Al Gore will surprise me and join the fray. Maybe Barack Obama can demonstrate he’s more than a platitude machine. Ironically, Obama today reminds me of John Edwards in 2004. Perhaps Bill Richardson can convince me he’s not simply an agent of the establishment. For damn I won’t support Hillary Clinton. At this time, John Edwards appears to be the one with the “vision thing.” And that means, I’ll likely be phone banking, canvassing and stuffing envelopes on his behalf in a few months.