Saturday, August 30, 2008

A President Who Can Think on his Feet

In a speech that reminded me of some of the strongest moments from the film The American President (full script here, I’ll add a sample below), Barack Obama demonstrated that he can inspire, that he can be tough, that he has an open mind, that he values fairness and American values in all their diversity and, most encouragingly, that he can articulate these points without fumbling; that he can give a 45 minute speech without veering off into incoherent sentence structures and without inadvertently flipping what he means to say into its own opposite. George W. Bush can’t do it and I have yet to see John McCain get passionate and stay coherent on any topic.

Some quick quotes (full speech text is online here too):

“This, too, is part of America 's promise -- the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.”

"That's why I stand here tonight. Because for 232 years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women - students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors - found the courage to keep it alive."

“You don't defeat a terrorist network that operates in 80 countries by occupying Iraq .”

"I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know. Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a year? It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it."

“ -- that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington . Change comes to Washington ”

Sure, the speech was pre-written and well-rehearsed and not so different from the one I saw months ago in Birmingham (Alabama), but he delivered it with interest, on tempo, with vitality and with sincerity. A President we can believe in.

Here’s a bit of Michael Douglas as Alan Shepherd in The American President:

“Bob's problem isn't that he doesn't get it. Bob's problem is that he can't sell it. Nobody has ever won an election by talking about what I was just talking about. This is a country made up of people with hard jobs that they're terrified of losing. The roots of freedom are of little or no interest to them at the moment. We are a nation afraid to go out at night. We're a society that has assigned low priority to education and has looked the other way while our public schools have been decimated. We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious men to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, friend, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: Making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.”

I hope we all stay in touch with this inspirational vision and that we elect Obama and reject the continuity offered by John McCain as he has moved closer to George W’s policies of war for oil’s sake and gotten tighter with the closed minds of ultra-conservative religious minorities.

Let’s bring a fresh quick mind with a powerful vision to the Presidency – we should never settle for anything less.

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain’s Desperate Gambit

Sarah who? Governor of which state? For how long? John McCain’s running mate is in her second year as Governor of one of the least populous states in the country, Alaska . It’s not lost on me that Alaska is an oil state, too; although apparently she’s been a critic of big oil to some extent, still her state receives a big pile of oil money every year. So McCain wanted a woman, one with “maverick credentials”, to me that’s because he’s lost his own set. He began losing his independent voice sometime before 2006 when he visited Alabama and cozied up to some very right-wing religious groups, some with ties to white-supremacy and other hate groups; and shredded the rest as he has backed George W. Bush’s plays in Iraq and the former Soviet Union. But I can see why he picked a woman, and why he didn’t want her name out in the media on his short list. He wanted to let Obama pick a non-woman, i.e. someone other than Hillary Clinton, and then he’s hoping to swoop in and pick up the disenfranchised Hillary supporters, particularly in the large swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania , where Hillary did better than Obama. I’m sure most of the Clinton-ites will see right through this. Sarah Palin is not Hillary Clinton. She is not a statesman the way Hillary grew to be as First Lady and has carried on now as a 10 year veteran of the U.S. Senate. We know Hillary’s passions and foibles. Sarah Palin is an unknown and there is not enough time now for the American public to ensure that she is qualified to be one heart beat away from the Presidency. She is younger than Obama, but we know that he can handle pressure, we’ve seen him on the campaign trail for 18 months; we saw him at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. What was Sarah Palin doing in 2004? Can she stand up to the pressure of the office that she now seeks, or the one that might be bequeathed to her suddenly? We can’t find out in the next 68 days, but we would need to in order to be swayed to their ticket. It’s a desperate gambit by a man seeking an office where desperate gambits can put us all in harm’s way.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Preamble Rambling

My daughter just started seventh grade. They’re studying US history, presently The U.S. Constitution. It’s heady stuff. She’s had to memorize the Preamble, and while there is some uncommon language it’s all pretty straight-forward – and powerful. I was going to just point to a copy on the web at, say,, but it’s worth duplicating it here (and copyright should not be an issue, :-) ):

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

That’s about as strong an opening on as serious of a topic as there is in our civil life, yet our general citizenry in this day and age only really pays attention to it when they’re in secondary school. “… secure the Blessings of Liberty”, not just for the framers (who were largely regular citizens) and their contemporaries, but for their posterity (that’d be us, now). And they were sure to include tantamount precepts like separation and balance of powers and the Bill of Rights for individuals.

Just to take one example from that Bill, the first amendment, again is strong stuff:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In the face of that founding right, how do we have stories like the one coming out of Minneapolis today where 3 videographers had their cameras, equipment and notes confiscated by police (Minneapolis cops confiscate cameras)? Prima facie it flies against the most basic tenets of our government and I don’t understand why it’s not the top news story of the day. Maybe someday my daughter will explain it to me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

An honor to know the Honorable…

I’ve gotten more familiar with our hometown mayor, Sandy Kirkendall, over the past four years – he’s up for re-election today. I voted for him, and I’ve had his sign in my yard and his magnet on my car for a couple months now as his campaign heated up. We’re invited to his victory party this evening, although I don’t think his victory is assured. As near as I can tell he’s a fine small-and-growing town mayor – we’ve certainly had worse in the past 15 years. He’s down-to-earth yet very sharp and not a hint of impropriety in his administration; he’s a frequent customer at Bruegger’s Bagels where my wife works and he awarded my son the Madison Mayor’s Scholarship a couple years ago. My daughter recently doodled his campaign logo . He stopped by our house during his canvassing and he planted our yard sign himself. This morning he was out in front of city hall, in the drizzling rain, greeting all who came to vote, for him or not. He’s a model politician – if only his style would catch on for higher office holders.