Excerpts from my Journals History McCain Politics Prose Reflections

Senator McCain and Senator Bradley

Excerpts from my Journals
[The week of January 21st, 2000; shortly before the New Hampshire primaries.]

If neither McCain nor Bradley make it past the primaries, I will be disillusioned. I am confident that if either one makes it to the general election, he will win. I find it hard to see how someone can vote for Gore or Bush unless they have some vested interest in one of their candidacies, or because of single-issue loyalty. The two establishment candidates merely want to win. Bush makes careful statements to secure the loyalty of those hardliners in his party yet avoid arousing the ire of those who disagree with him in the mainstream. There is nothing wrong with that – it merely shows shrewdness, but it seems hard to believe Bush thought of these careful statements himself. He seems a man propped up by aides, a cardboard figure given life by the establishment, a soul whose only joy is victory. Gore comes off as more pathetic – a Pinocchio trying to pretend to be a real politician to voters, a man who lacks charisma trying to charm, someone who hates defeat but does not consider himself worthy of winning.

In the end, I voted for Ralph Nader – because I could not bring myself to vote for either candidate.  I can see now how my decision was wrong – and how Mr. Gore, although a poor candidate, would have made a competent president.  I also seriously underestimated the radical nature of the Bush presidency.  What I believed the country needed in 2000 was a non-establishment president – and so, I set my hopes on John McCain and Bill Bradley.

Unfortunately, we were forced to choose between Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush.

Election 2008 Obama Politics The Clintons

The growing chorus

An unusually intelligent argument (set to music) by Obama Girl on why Ms. Clinton should withdraw her candidacy:

Update: A female friend writes to me about this video: “What is wrong with her? Watching that video made me embarrassed to be female.”

I didn’t think it was that bad – despite the awkward attempts to insert barely clothed pictures of Obama girl into the video…She’s still making good points.

Excerpts from my Journals History Politics Post 9/11 Generation Reflections The War on Terrorism

September 11

Excerpts from my Journal
[digg-reddit-me][Undated; between entries for late December 2001 and mid-January 2002]

I didn’t cry until I came home in late December. I knew no one who died. I knew no one who had survived the tragedy. The towers had never been a part of my life.

I cried when I saw the newspapers from the days after the attack. When I read about how television had stopped in the face of the crisis When I remembered catching the last minutes of the TV concert and at an off-campus party on Cambridge Street. When I read the comics, when I read the sports pages about the Mets and the Yankees – especially the Mets and their desperate dash to make the play-offs. When I heard phone calls a person high in the tower made to a person further down, or the calls from people on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Reading The Onion, and watching God cry. When I see the Mayor – Rudy Giuliani, man of the year, mayor of America – when I realize the leadership it took for him to lead the city during and after the attacks. When I drive by the city and notice where the towers are not anymore, and I realize that the island over there is still Manhattan.

As all these memories come together, focused on the moment Isaac, my roommate, shouted at me to get out of bed – and I stood, sat, started transfixed by the smoke and fire – and that terrible footage of the plane headed straight for the building. Unreality had taken hold. I knew it wasn’t a dream, but still, it was not real as I had understood and still understand reality.

I know this terrible thing happened – and that firemen are still removing bodies from the rubble, but it is not real. There’s no way it could be.

So, in a year of Bush league politics, the country rallied around our President – no matter his failings. He is the Stars and Stripes. Disgustingly, this was abused.

But America will survive the abuses of power. After all, it survived September 11, World War II, the Great Depression, the Civil War, and the British invasion.

My country – may she always be right and stay true to her course.

There are two main emotional touchstones which those of us who lived through the Bush years will look back to:

  • September 11, and the days afterwards;
  • the period from September 2002 until March 2003, the build-up to and the opening days of, the Iraq war.

All these years on, it is hard to see the period after September 11 as anything but a missed opportunity – for a president who had won in a disputed election to become the president of all Americans by creating some form of national unity government in response to the crisis – or to call on all Americans to do their part to pro-actively make the world better – something, anything. Instead, he told us to go out and buy stuff, and to be very afraid, and that if we offered him enough leeway, he would be able to protect us. He used the crisis as a political wedge issue; he used it to seize more power for the presidency; he used it to win elections for his party and himself. He abused his office and this moment in history.

It is difficult to remember today that they held vigils in Tehran; that the Irananian moderates in charge of Iran at the time offered to (and did) help us take down the Taliban, and that they wanted to make peace with America ((We didn’t respond.)); that in France, Le Monde declared that all citizens of the world were New Yorkers now; that we, as Americans, realized what petty squabbles we had been having for the past decades; that we together honored those men and women who served as firefighters and policemen, as soldiers and spies, whose job it was to protect and serve.

That day – the horrendous attack of that day – reminded those around the world, and those in America, what we had in common, and what all of us admired about this great nation.

Which is why, nearly seven years later, what I feel most is regret – that the opportunity that presents itself with any tragedy was squandered, and then abused. I was amazed when reading the entry posted above that this squandered opportunity, this abuse of power, was already evident while the ruins at Ground Zero were still smoldering.

Members of the Bush administration are fond of saying that everything changed on September 11. They have been ridiculed for it – and rightly so, because for them, that concept has been used to justify the policies they were promoting beforehand. It was rather convenient for them that September 11 changed everything – and proved that what they had been promoting before September 11 was more needed now than ever before – expanded executive powers, an expansion of surveillance powers, war with Iraq, tax cuts, reduced financial regulation, and more Republicans in the Congress.

But what the mockers miss is that something fundamental did change on 9/11. The American people were forced to focus on the world again; many of us no longer felt safe – even if our fears were overstated, and outside of the major cities, almost entirely unfounded. The more fundamental change was emotional, a change of timbre. We were forced to reckon with the fact that some people in the world were so willing to kill us, indiscriminately, that they would kill themselves in order to do so; and we realized that our values and our ways of life have far more in common than in opposition. Despite the partisan attempts to take advantage of this crisis and the polarization that resulted, these emotional facts remain latent. We still remember – however dimly – that we are one people, with far more uniting us than dividing us; and we remember that in our moment of weakness, the world mourned our losses with us and stood with us; and we remember that there are those who wish us harm and who are willing to sacrifice themselves in their cause.

None of this is exceptional, but it sets the stage for the story to unfold.

Excerpts from my Journals History Politics Post 9/11 Generation Prose Reflections The War on Terrorism

An emotional calculus

In evaluating the legacy of the administration of George W. Bush and where we need to go as a nation from here, we need to undertake the delicate, obscure, and imprecise art of projecting how the future will be affected by our decisions today, taking into account the many elements of the past and present that are out of our control. This unknowability of the future and how our decisions affect is one of the essential pragmatic and moral arguments in favor of democracy – because we cannot determine the optimal course using reason, we all take shared responsibility for making our best judgment.Emotions are our attempt, as beings of limited understanding and knowledge, to synthesize the great unconscious mass of our knowledge – the subtle hints, the forgotten information, the half-remembered, the projections based on our past experience – with that which we have analyzed and understood.

What I propose to do here is to perform a kind of emotional calculus – which I think is commonly practiced but rarely described in these terms. Reason is often said to be the light illuminating the darkness; but the future is made of a darkness impenetrable to reason’s light; instead of walking confidently down a lighted path, we instead must grope in the darkness, struggling to identify how best to make our way, and only slowly coming to understand our surroundings.

This is the first part of a three part argument – to be posted on the blog (in at least three parts) over the next week – based on my understanding of two events from the early days of the Bush administration and a more recent event, and how these events relate to what might be called grandiosely the American psyche – but more aptly would be called my personal insight into what Carl Jung identified as the collective unconscious. I would call this attempt David Brooks-esque without being leavened by humor.

My method begins with my own personal experiences and follows an emotional logic.

Election 2008 Obama Politics

Idealizing ourselves while demonizing others

 William Greider of The Nation captures one of the essential attractive qualities about Mr. Obama that was especially apparent in his “More Perfect Union” speech:

In psychological terms, what’s extraordinary is [Obama’s] refusal to split off himself and his own experience from those others. So he embraced them, knowing the risks. Then he tells us – audaciously – that we are capable of doing the same. Yet most of us do the opposite in everyday life, defining ourselves in contrast to the others we are not, idealizing our own selves by demonizing the others. Obama knows all this. He still insists we can do it. He has seen it happen in life.

Election 2008 Liberalism Libertarianism Obama Politics

Republican Party to Ron Paul Supporters: Get lost!

[digg-reddit-me]One of the core magazine of the Republican conservative establishment has this explicit message to Ron Paul supporters:

[G]et lost. There should be plenty of room for [all of you] in Obama’s big tent.

The Republican party seems to be making no attempt to woo or otherwise capture the energy of Congressman Ron Paul’s supporters. I admired Mr. Paul’s campaign – even if I felt I could never support him. I believe that Mr. Paul’s campaign got some of the biggest issues facing America right – with regards to federalism, the balance of power, and executive overreach. On many other issues, I think he argued from a principled and insightful stance – one that those Republicans – and many Democrats – in power today do not take into account. In foreign policy, he was a military isolationist; on currency, he was against all regulation. These stances are radical – but reflect the reality of America less than a hundred years ago. Although many of those in power ignore this, there are still many fringe aspects of America that they ignore.

Now, the Republican party is rejecting the many young supporters of Mr. Paul – presumably because these elites see these supporters as part of the unwashed masses that get to have a say every four or so years, but who are essentially dumb creatures. There is a contempt for Mr. Paul’s supporters that is hard to fathom – especially for a party that is in decline.

I agree with Mr. Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard though. Barack Obama has many positions at odds with Mr. Paul. But I think Mr. Paul’s supporters can find something to support in Mr. Obama’s platform. And they are welcome in Obama’s big tent.

Here’s a grand liberal-libertarian alliance this November and beyond. (Do you hear me Kos? Freedom Democrats?)


Lopate v. Jacoby on Vaccination

Leonard Lopate of WNYC interviewed Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason, this week. Mr. Lopate generally draws his subjects out in his interviews – giving them broad range to discuss their views. He has a classic NPR voice and style – non-confrontational and laid-back.  I don’t know much about Susan Jacoby – but by her interviewee style, she seems to be shrill and a bit of a bully – not someone who attacks other people harsher than they deserve, but one who can never understand why they believe what they do – and so, who denigrates them, puts them down, and looks down on them while never understanding where they stand.  After hearing about one minute of the interview, I already knew I didn’t like her style of speaking or reasoning.  She has an interesting case – in a similar way to Michael Gerson – one that is ambitious and interesting yet obviously flawed.  Below is an exchange – which takes place about ten minutes into the audio on the site – in which Mr. Lopate reveals that he has a personal stake in the issue which Ms. Jacoby is mocking…


You also talk about junk thought and junk science…Does that also grow out of poor education?


Of course it grows out of poor education. And here’s where poor education meets the media and it may also be why people want both creationism and evolution taught in schools. There is this powerful idea of bogus objectivity which is more powerful because everybody is getting most of their hits of news from video rather than reading anything about it which is that truth is always equidistant from two points; that there is never any issue in which there really is a right side and a wrong side, so that for example, I turn on the television new shows over and over, and there is a powerful anti-vaccination movement in this country. It is a movement largely spurred by parents who tragically have autistic children and one of the things that has happened is that autism has risen as the number of immunizations has risen. Now this is again a fundamental failure of thinking; what happens is that at about age two is when the symptoms of autism are first noticed by parents. Around age two is when children are getting a lot of their shots. But there have been rigorous scientific studies showing that the rate of autism is no different in the immunized and non-immunized children. But every time the TV presents something on this there is a crying parent on one side and a cold-hearted scientist on the other saying, “That isn’t so.” And the television throws up his hands and says, “Well, you know, this person says this and this person says that…”


Susan…Susan…I am the parent of an autistic son. He is thirteen years old. He got his shots at eighteen months and suddenly stopped talking. I think it is quite reasonable for people who have witnessed that and have witnessed the change from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 150 in the time when we suddenly started giving kids the MMR shots with mercury in it to make that kind of connection. There are doctors who do believe it is true. I think there are a lot of people who for all sorts of reasons believe…I’m just not gonna let you get away with that one. It was too simple. But I go along with your general premise here in this book. This is just one case where I think that there are just too many conflicting desires and people and people in medicine and the pharmaceutical industry and in politics to just simply say that the parents are wrong.


Well, first of all, I am very sorry that I unadvertantly [sic] touched on something that touches on your so personally, but I do think – and I’ll move on to another analogy, because I really regret this, that you’ve been personally touched by this – but I do think that the scientific evidence…and mercury has also long since been removed from these vaccines so there also have been studies on that…


No – not even there – it’s been removed but the vaccines continue to be used with the mercury until they finish up the complete amount. Anyway, it’s a whole other thing and whether some people are predisposed to be able to handle heavy metals and some are not; whether there are all sorts of genetic predispositions at play hjere. There is a whole…a very complicated argument. It’s not a simple one.


Well, it’s not argument that’s every presented as complicated on television…




If you had said that it’s a very complicated argument and I have oversimplified; but what television does is it oversimplifies it!

Election 2008 Obama Politics

The Good Friday Interview

[digg-reddit-me]Key Premise:

It’s important that Mr. Obama not pander – but in today’s fractious media environment, he needs to appear on partisan conservative media outlets if he is to speak to those Americans directly, instead of filtered through the partisans themselves.


Senator Barack Obama should go on The Rush Limbaugh Show this Friday for an interview as long as Mr. Limbaugh will give him – preferably at least one year.

The Rationale:

Mr. Obama’s speech his Tuesday was effective and moving. It was a nuanced and subtle plea for Americans to have perspective, and to focus on the important issues facing our nation instead of sideshows. But it did not succeed on two levels:

  1. It did not reach the conservatives who were only treated to small snippets of the speech in the midst of scathing reviews that entirely misrepresented Mr. Obama’s message. A great deal of Mr. Obama’s appeal is that he can speak to all Americans – but the partisan media outlets are not adequately representing his message, so he must speak to the people directly.
  2. It did not end the Reverend Wright story; many people were shaken by the fearful possibility raised by Mr. Obama’s association with Reverend Wright – and I have heard some of the unlikeliest people tell me of their fears of an angry black man becoming president.

What Mr. Obama needs to put this behind him is an interview with the least sympathetic person possible. To me, this seems to be Mr. Limbaugh. Mr. Obama needs an opportunity to face the toughest questions head-on – for someone to outright ask him if he hates America, to ask him if he is a secret Muslim, to ask him if he is just denouncing Reverend Wright’s statements out of political expediency. I believe Mr. Obama would be very convincing on each count – even to the unreceptive audience listening to Mr. Limbaugh’s show. More important, Mr. Obama has used this controversy to pivot to an innovative ((But now new.)) progressive message. This message has the virtue of being true, seemingly deeply felt, and appealing to many voters who traditionally do not vote Democratic – the message that as authentic, understandable, and deeply felt as the racial resentments may be in our country, they are essentially a distraction from achieving the change the middle class needs to in this globalizing and uncertain economy.

Mr. Obama would have an opportunity to speak to an audience which has never heard from him before – and most important, an audience that I believe would be very sympathetic to the substance of the message from his “More Perfect Union” speech. ((Even if this audience has little chance of ever voting for him, it is important to speak to all Americans and quell their fears. Although most of Mr. Limbaugh’s audience would tend to favor conservative ideas at odds with Mr. Obama’s; although as many are partisans, they will dismiss what Mr. Obama says no matter what; it is essential to reach out to them, because then they will be able to see that Mr. Obama is more than the cardboard cut-out he is presented as. In addition, it might take out some of the energy in Operation Chaos. )) Rush Limbaugh has been “demanding” all sorts of answers – and Mr. Obama should prepare responses to each one of his questions. But most important would be what Mr. Obama’s presence and manner would communicate to Mr. Limbaugh’s listeners.

The move would be brilliant political theater – and would enhance Mr. Obama’s appeal; it would demonstrate that he was running a different sort of campaign, and that he could reach out to voters that Ms. Clinton cannot. It is unlikely that Mr. Obama would win over many voters – but the interview would be spectacularly successful if it merely dampened the worst fears of the far right. Citizens are apt to do crazy things if they believe a secret Muslim, America-hating liberal terrorist-sympathizing extremist is about to become president. Mr. Obama cannot stop some people from believing it. But the vile rhetoric by many people on talk radio – including Mr. Limbaugh – that encourages this view should be dealt with head-on. Mr. Obama has often said that transparency is the best disinfectant – and by appearing on Mr. Limbaugh’s show, he would be putting himself out there to be examined by Mr. Limbaugh’s audience. My feeling is that the more attention they pay to Mr. Obama himself, the better they will think of him – because the caricature of him painted by the right wing smear machine is clearly at odds with the candidate himself.

N.B. For those who believe that Mr. Obama should not appear on Mr. Limbaugh’s show because it would only enhance Mr. Limbaugh’s stature: Mr. Obama has said that he would meet without conditions with Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Castro in his first year in office. That is the right decision because a strong leader has nothing to fear from meeting with his adversaries.

N.B.II. The most important thing to come from this interview would be the fact that it took place. The second most important thing would be the one or two sparring matches that would be endlessly replayed on cable news. Mr. Obama must be careful not to cede any ground to Mr. Limbaugh in one of these exchanges.

N.B. III. I’m sure Obama’s campaign has a specific strategy for dealing with these issues – specifically the rumors and fear-mongering of figures such as Mr. Limbaugh. I don’t know what it is. But to me, this seems the best method.

Excerpts from my Journals History Politics

What it means to be a politician

[digg-reddit-me]Excerpts from my Journals
[Late December 2001; lines jotted down from a Richard Nixon speech.]

Everett Dirksen was a politician in the finest sense of that much abused word. If he were here, I think he might put it this way:

A politician knows that more important than the bill that is proposed is the law that is passed.

A politician knows that his friends are not always his allies, and that his adversaries are not his enemies.

A politician knows how to make the process of democracy work, and loves the intricate workings of the democratic system.

A politician knows not only how to count votes, but how to make his vote count.

A politician knows that his words are his weapons, but that his word is his bond.

A politician knows that only if he leaves room for discussion and room for concession can he gain room for maneuver.

A politician knows that the best way to be a winner is to make the other side feel it does not have to be a loser.

And a politician – in the Dirksen tradition-knows both the name of the game and the rules of the game, and he seeks his ends through the time-honored democratic means…

As he could persuade, he could be persuaded. His respect for other points of view lent weight to his own point of view. He was not afraid to change his position if he were persuaded that he had been wrong. That tolerance and sympathy were elements of his character and that character gained him the affection and esteem of millions of his fellow Americans…

As a man of politics, he knew both victory and defeat.

As a student of philosophy, he knew the triumph of and the tragedy and the misery of life.

And as a student of history, he knew that some men achieve greatness, others are not recognized for their greatness until after their death.

From Lend Me Your Ears, a compilation of the great speeches throughout history by William Safire. Pages 220 – 221. The speech was given by Richard Nixon on September 9, 1969 as a eulogy at the Capitol Rotunda for Senator Dirksen of Illinois. (The eloquence of the speech – and it’s odd placement between the great eulogies by Cicero and Lincoln makes me suspect this may have been a Safire production. I have a feeling this speech may have been a Safire production.)

This Senate seat is now held by Senator Barack Obama.

Election 2008 Foreign Policy Iraq McCain Politics The War on Terrorism

Is Joe Lieberman acting as a “stealth Democrat”?

Find out.