Thursday, October 30, 2008

He is Too!

While chatting online tonight with a Georgetown college student, I was asked what I thought of Al Franken's chances in Tuesday's election. The student knew from my various Facebook postings, Prairie Pondering, photographs and exhortations for support that I am passionately supporting Mr. Franken in his bid to unseat Norm Coleman.

I responded that I thought it would be close (how's that for a limb?), but that I believe that if Barack Obama generates strong voter turnout among younger voters, it will result in Al Franken's victory. I went on to comment that younger voters are more accepting of Al as a candidate for the Senate than some older DFL'ers and that they were less likely to split the ticket than, say, my personal attorney, who has been drawn to the Dark Side in the race for U.S. Senate but not, no pun intended, in the race for the presidency. Too many of my contemporaries do not view Al Franken as being "senatorial enough" to justify voting for him.

And then it hit me: He is Too!

I worked in the U.S. Senate right out of law school so I feel like I have firsthand experience with what it takes to be a successful U.S. Senator. There is nothing in Al Franken's background, experience, demeanor, intelligence level, dedication to public service, or willingness to sacrifice for the public good that suggests he would not do a stellar job as the junior Senator from Minnesota.

Somehow, there is perception that Al is too contentious, too sarcastic, too inflexible and insufficiently serious to walk in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol and ride in the Members Only elevators. I am not sure where the perception comes from. However, as I ponder the situation (reality check: from my office downtown, not on the prairie tonight), thinking about the soft-spoken, frankly whining, tone Norm Coleman adopts in his "about me" campaign ads, and compare it with the images of an engaged Al Franken used in Norm Coleman's attack ads, I guess I should not be surprised at the persona thrust upon Al.

Forget about it not being fair. We all realize that fairness has no place in determining outcomes in this election season. More importantly, it is not relevant. It is not relevant because out of context depictions of a ranting Al Franken are not a true measure of the man. It is not relevant because, to the extent there is any contextual accuracy, we should be embracing passion in those who would serve the public interest, not damning it.

Without slipping into my President Shepard mode (cf. "Challenging a Culture of Mindless Hate", October 15, 2008 blog), why is there not more outrage and passion exhibited by Senator Now-that-the-Election-is Upon-Us-I-am-Bi-Partisan-in-My-Approach? The answer, of course, is that Norm Coleman being outraged over the loss of life, loss of prestige, loss of economic independence and loss of innocence experienced by the American public in the last six years would be akin to Captain Renault being "shocked, shocked" to finding gambling going on at Rick's Café.

Al Franken is cut from the mold of Paul Wellstone, my former college professor at Carleton College in the 1970's and, not incidentally, Norm Coleman's predecessor in office. It does not matter that Professor Wellstone challenged his students and that Senator Wellstone challenged his constituents to consider positions on issues far to the left of conventional wisdom. What matters is that he challenged us at all. As I noted in an earlier posting, there are more than enough worshippers at the Altar of Limbaugh to assure reaching middle ground. But if we deprive ourselves of voices like Franken and Wellstone and Humphrey and RFK and HST and FDR, then we deprive ourselves of voices of conscience.

Who among us does not wish we could turn back the clock and take better note of Senator Wellstone's warnings about rushing into armed conflict with Iraq? Who among us believes that having representation beholden to Bush/Cheney, and silent on the policies of the Worst Administration in American History, has not significantly contributed to the struggles and challenges we now face for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren?

Al Franken is exactly the kind of person we need looking out for our interests. We just spent six years relying on a Bush/Cheney puppet to speak out for the values Minnesotans have held dear and that have made us such a great state. What a waste. What a disgrace. What an opportunity to reclaim our self-respect and demand, young and old among us, by casting our ballot on Tuesday, that Al Franken be given the chance to use his wisdom, passion and social conscience on behalf of all Minnesotans.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It Makes You Wonder (Version 2) . . .

As promised, I'm adding wonderings and changing the title. I'll add the new items to the top so you don't have to read through everything again. If this is your first visit to "It Makes You Wonder", please continue to read on after today's (Version 2) addition.

16.) I wonder if Republicans who criticize Barack Obama for not introducing any legislation while in the U.S. Senate have particular laws in mind that they feel are missing from the U.S. Code.

17.) I wonder if Minnesota Democrats upset that the 2006 election victories allowing their party to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate did not result in quicker withdrawal from Iraq understand the need to elect Al Franken and help assure a filibuster-proof Senate.

18.) I wonder if Sarah Palin will shop at the Anchorage Goodwill Thrift Store after her wardrobe is donated to charity in order to make sure Tryg is properly clothed.

19.) I wonder if the former Republican State Senator from a bright red suburb of Minneapolis has publicized his decision to support Ashwin Madia over the "too conservative" Eric Paulson.

To be continued. . . (Original post below)

Even if you are not pondering on the prairie, there are a number matters that might strike you as strange as we approach the end of the 2008 election season. I thought I'd put a few of the thoughts that have occurred to me recently as I spend time as a political junkie listening to news reports, reading other blogs and engaging in discussions with political friends and foes.

I invite you to add to the list in the comment section at the end of the blog. If it is easier, send me an e-mail with a request to post and I'll add your comments to the body of this blog. I'll change the version number in the title so you can monitor whether there have been any additions.

These are in no particular order other than the order in which they came to mind as I write this.

1.) I wonder why "hitting a provisional" is accepted as a basic rule in the game of golf but casting a provisional ballot in Ohio is a threat to our democracy.

2.) I wonder why we generally accept the concept that requiring property ownership as a pre-condition to voting is unconstitutional but we view allowing homeless people to vote as a threat to our democracy.

3.) I wonder why Michelle Bachman believes voters in Minnesota's Sixth District are so stupid that they will believe her claim that she did not mean to characterize Barack Obama and certain members of Congress as "un-American" in a televised response that began "absolutely, absolutely."

4.) I wonder why Michelle Bachman believes the media should spend its time on an in-depth investigation of members of Congress to verify their patriotism if she truly does not believe there is a problem worth investigating.

5.) I wonder why voters in Minnesota's Sixth District are so stupid.

6.) I wonder if mavericks are like magnetic poles and tend to repel one another.

7.) I wonder if the McCain campaign is truly surprised that Governor Palin, whose independent streak is touted for taking on her Republican colleagues in Alaska, is, by some accounts, breaking free from her handlers and going it alone in campaign appearances.

8.) I wonder why folks who believe we live in the greatest country in the world because of our adherence to democratic principles, promotion of free speech and the open debate of competing ideas feel so threatened by a presidential candidate willing to engage in give and take discussions with other world leaders in order to achieve peaceful co-existence.

9.) I wonder why Senator Biden's opponents jump on his observation about the likelihood of President Obama being tested early in his administration as a "gaffe" as opposed to a statement of fact by the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

10.) I wonder why we understand that we live in dangerous times, facing threats to our country on so many levels, yet take our political candidates to task for trying to truthfully discuss the implications of a harsh reality that will not disappear on its own.

11.) I wonder why we accept that airline pilots are required to retire in their 60's in order to avoid any possibility that the onset of aging will impair their ability to make life and death decisions but treat as age discrimination any suggestion that John McCain is too old to serve as Commander-in-Chief.

12.) I wonder when being a skilled orator became an acceptable subject of derision on the campaign trail while scripted talking points repeated ad nauseum are viewed as the basis for enthusiastic support.

13.) I wonder why, if John McCain really believed it was relevant, he waited until six days before the election to call on the Los Angeles Times to release video tape of speeches given in 2003 honoring a Palestinian acquaintance of Barack Obama that was known to exist seven months ago.

14.) I wonder why, if Senator Coleman thinks he should be re-elected because he "reaches across the aisle" to get things done, Minnesotans don't just support Al Franken who is already on the most popular side of the aisle.

15.) I wonder why Senator Coleman is not required to disclose, other than in television commercial bullet points, exactly what policies and fundamentals he would pursue from his side of the aisle.

That's it for now. Feel free to join me in my wonderment.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Road Trip

I left Minneapolis on Friday on a road trip to Chicago for the weekend. I looked forward to the trip as I was going to celebrate my Uncle Norman's 81st birthday, spend a day with my "blood-brother" Bruce in town from Los Angeles for the the A.I.P.A.C. (American Israeli Political Action Committee) conference and catch up with my Washington D.C. roommate and his wife, Norman and Lilli, who now live in Chicago.

On the first leg of the drive, I traveled to Faribault in Southern Minnesota to pick up my cousin, Kevin, to allow him to join the birthday celebration. The resulting route found us enjoying rolling farmlands and mature trees still ablaze with autumn colors. We picked up the Interstate south of Rochester, giving us the opportunity beforehand to get a feel for some of our rural communities and their struggles as evidenced by closed businesses and the plethora of "For Sale" signs hanging on abandoned buildings and in front of houses along the highway. Having said that, there are few places in this country (speaking as a visitor and/or resident of 47 of 50 states) that are as beautiful as the bluffs viewed traveling East on Interstate 90 as you approach the Mississippi River on a sunny Fall day.

Our destination Friday afternoon was Uncle Norman's lake home outside of Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Relying on my car's GPS, we left the Interstate just past Madison and traveled on U.S. 12 for the last hour or so. Again, we were fortunate to experience small towns along the way, including Cambridge, an enchanting borough brimming with antique and art shops. I had wanted to visit Cambridge ever since hearing of its charms five years ago from one of its residents, my daughter's college roommate. Now that I know where it is, I will be able to return. Our route also took us through the town of Whitehall, home to one of the University of Wisconsin campuses, and a picture perfect Midwest college town. It was a poignant part of the trip as I realized that I was traveling the same U.S. 12 my parents drove with three young sons several times a month to visit my ailing grandparents in Chicago in the late 1950's.

I could go on, but the point here is not to provide a travelogue as such. It is, surprise, surprise, to relay my impressions of the political discourse going on as we hurdle towards November 4th.

Frankly, I was amazed at the level of support I saw for Barack Obama as Kevin and I drove across Minnesota's traditionally conservative First Congressional District and through rural Wisconsin, a Republican stronghold in 2004. To be sure, the McCain/Palin ticket is not going to be embarrassed in these regions in a week. Judging from the campaign signage, both sides have strong support. But, judging from the volume of campaign signage, the electorate is engaged beyond anything I can recall.

Thinking about the demonstrated support for Senator Obama, including an amazing amount of support appearing on my fellow travelers' bumper stickers, it struck me that the candidate has effected a paradigm shift in rural America. He has struck a chord with traditionally more conservative parts of the country, making it possible for significant portions of that population to proudly proclaim their support for an African American politician from the South Side of Chicago, apparently without fear of rebuke from their neighbors.

I want to take this as an indication that, among other things, Senator Obama's campaign really has transcended the issue of race. In addition, however, the level of support for a new regime must also be explained with an eye on the economy. My heart went out too often to the shuttered businesses we passed. These former islands of commerce dotting the rural highways represented the hopes of entrepreneurs filling out the infrastructure of isolated communities. Whether the result of a cutback in travel or a reflection of reduced spending by local patrons, the loss of jobs experienced when a restaurant or convenience store or used car lot or curio shop closes in the Heartland has a devastating ripple effect. The jobs are not easily replaceable; commerce slows for everyone. To this audience, Senator Obama's message of hope, coupled with the perception that he has a feel for taking necessary steps to restart the economy (without promising miracles), offers an alternative to the status quo, albeit from a non-traditional source.

By the time I hit the Chicago Loop on Saturday afternoon, any complacency resulting from my sense of optimism over rural support for my urban candidate disappeared. Senator Obama is a tough sell with the A.I.P.A.C. crowd. For reasons I addressed in an earlier discussion of the issue in
Prairie Pondering, many of my Jewish brethren do not trust Senator Obama to continue to provide strong support for Israel. Since, if you are among the 1,500 conference attendees committed enough to Israel enough to fly in from all over the country for the A.I.P.A.C. event, there is no more important issue, any doubts about Senator Obama's Middle East policy is a deal breaker.

My early Sunday morning visit to Norm and Lilly in Lincoln Park was a bit more reassuring. Norm is in the broadcast business. He has retained his love for all things political and, as a career necessity, is tuned into wind currents generated out of Washington. He does business in several Midwestern states and seems to have a sense for the trials and tribulations of the campaigns that goes beyond the hype generated by his advertisers as they do combat over his airwaves. He is optimistic about the election results; Lilly was off to Indiana to door knock for the Obama campaign.

Perhaps the most stark observation from Norm was his concern for the safety of Senator Obama. Many of us have worried about the same thing. But Norm put a slightly different twist on things. Senator Obama's home is across the street from Norm and Lilly's synagogue near the University of Chicago. Apparently, the Secret Service found it necessary to close off open access to the street nearly a year ago. The level of protection deemed necessary is unnerving, made more so by today's news account of a skinhead plot to assassinate Senator Obama. I take some, but faint, solace in the fact that we are reading of the "foiled" plot.

Back in Highland Park for birthday brunch on Sunday, the family allowed itself to "discuss" politics and, again, it was different strokes for different folks. Without getting into who said what, there was probably no better than a 60/40 split in favor of Senator Obama among the adults in attendance. I had long since rejected much of what I heard offered as a basis for opposing an Obama presidency: ties into Reverend Wright, friend of William Ayers, beneficiary of Arab money paying for college, "Manchurian Candidate", no executive experience. Nonetheless, I marveled at how effectively right-wing talking heads had managed to indoctrinate otherwise intelligent upper middle class voters. Since the trip to Chicago to celebrate Uncle Norman's birthday has become an annual tradition, I observed to the assembled gathered around the dining room table that, one way or another, some of us would be saying "I told you so" next October.

I left Highland Park at about 2 p.m., stopping at the local Jewel grocery store to pick up a year's supply of spicy giardinara. Armed, too, with a large Chunky candy bar, two packs of M&M's, a Milky Way, a Cadbury Fruit & Nut a cup of coffee and a liter of Coke, I drove back to Minneapolis. My cousin stayed behind so I was flying solo. I stuck to I-94 on the way home, wanting to have company if the weather turned nasty and as night fell. I used the time to catch up on podcasts of Face the Nation, Meet the Press, Washington Week and This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Some of the podcasts were repeating shows I had previously watched on TV, but it was fascinating to revisit earlier speculation discussing events and strategies that had since played out and/or revealed themselves.

I also caught a fascinating piece on NPR about pollsters in this election cycle and how The Bradley Effect may just be an urban legend. On the Media carried it Sunday, October 26th, interviewing Democratic and Republican staffers closely involved in the 1982 race for California governor and responsible for polling before the election. Both sides claim that internal polling showed Mayor Tom Bradley losing ground during the two weeks before the election and that The Bradley Effect was coined by a pollster with egg on his face when asked to explain how he had gotten things so wrong. I hope they are right and that this campaign has, in fact, transcended the issue of race.

I will not make any predictions here. Two months ago I told you Tim Pawlenty would be the Vice Presidential candidate alongside John McCain. While Senator McCain probably should have listened to me, he did not and I am batting 0% prognosticating in this blog. The notion that I could jinx the outcome by injecting my preference, and remain at 0%, is a risk I will not bear. Rather, I will spend November 4th assisting in getting out the vote and work to make my preference a reality. I ask that you do the same.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Addressing Racism as We Do the Right Thing

I met Daniel Wright III on my first day of college in September, 1970. He called out to me as I entered the Carleton College student union and beckoned me to join a group of students gathering for introductions. As a sophomore, Danny held court over the newbies, making the arriving students feel welcome and exuding a warmth, enthusiasm and intelligence I would come to know and love in the years to come.

In July, 1988, I left the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta to join Danny to watch a news conference at which Jesse Jackson endorsed Michael Dukakis, attempting to bring unity to the two candidates’ competing factions. Danny was in the hospital on his deathbed, an AIDS victim, and we held hands as I joked to ease the mood. “Look, Danny, after everything we’ve been through, here we are witnessing history. That could be us on television: a Black man and a short man competing for the presidency.”

Danny was young, gifted and Black. He grew up in Savannah, Georgia in a family that was at the center of the civil rights movement. His father was a schoolteacher and instilled an understanding of the importance of education in his son. Danny’s mother, Mercedes, was a local board member of the NAACP and is credited with effectively organizing students as the Georgia field secretary for the NAACP Youth Councils in the early 1960’s. He inherited his family’s intolerance of bigotry and, I like to think, saw in me a well-traveled, street smart, color-blind Jewish kid from St. Louis Park who did not define our friendship as one revolving around our different skin tones.

For me, Danny’s skin color was not an issue. I was raised in a home where prejudice was not expressed. Rather, I vividly recall Rabbi Moses Sachs speaking of the moral imperative to support the Civil Rights movement as television brought me images of vicious dogs and fire hoses being used against Negroes in Alabama. My personal exposure to people of color before I left for college was limited; my senior class at St. Louis Park High School boasted one African American member. Chet, the owner of Road Buddy’s in St. Paul was just a dark skinned restaurateur always happy to see little Sammy eating in his rib joint. The ribs were the best ever; his skin color was not an issue. Waiters on the trains to Chicago in the early 1960’s were a curiosity because they reminded me of the icons on the Cream of Wheat box as they served me Cream of Wheat, but their skin color was not an issue. The African American judge my grandfather introduced me to in Chicago when I was in my early teens was a role model (pre-indictment) because he was a judge and a friend of Papa’s; his skin color was not an issue.

Danny helped me maintain my enlightened viewpoint by sensitizing me to the poison spread by those less enlightened. I lost the ability to close my eyes to the injustices suffered by persons of color at the hands of overt and covert racists. Danny introduced me to the work of Lorraine Hansberry, giving me another view of the challenges faced by the African American community in my beloved Chicago. He shared war stories about growing up in the South and described his mother’s work with the NAACP in Savannah and, later, in New York City. He defended, with reason, the need for the African American students at Carleton to have an exclusive and exclusionary residence. Most importantly, he strengthened my tolerance radar, allowing me to recognize unacceptable behavior in others and in myself. Over the short 18 years we had, Danny and I became as close as brothers. When I graduated from his tutelage, I could no longer assume racist behavior was not an issue because it was not directed at or by me personally.

Which brings me to our current presidential campaign. As the election approaches and Senator Obama’s lead in the polls grows, speculation grows over the accuracy of the polls once respondents, and those they represent, actually vote in the privacy of the voting booth. The Bradley Effect, used to describe the difference between pre-election polling and actual results in former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley’s failed California gubernatorial campaign, suggests that poll respondents are reluctant to admit an unwillingness to vote for an African American candidate. As a result, the polls are skewed in favor of the African American candidate and actual performance in the election is disappointing.

Analysts considering to what extent the Bradley Effect will manifest itself in this year’s presidential race are really asking us all to consider the extent to which we remain a covertly racist society. To what extent do we pay lip service to the concept of equality yet harbor internal doubts that a person with darker skin than previous occupants of the Oval Office is somehow not up to the job, that he (or she) will give “those people” positions of responsibility or, worse, the “thinking” goes, cater to concerns irrelevant to and inconsistent with the best interests of the white majority? To what extent will the electorate channel racial stereotypes instead of making racially blind decisions based on more relevant, important attributes of the respective candidates?

Those of you who have been reading Prairie Pondering know which presidential candidate has earned my support based on the color-blind analysis. Unfortunately, there is nothing I can write here today that will eliminate race-based decision making across the board. The best I can hope for is to get readers to engage in some introspection and, given the opportunity, challenge others to do the same.

I realize that most of you were not fortunate enough to have your tolerance factor nurtured by Irv Stern, Rabbi Moses Sachs, or Danny Wright. You missed my dorm room conference with U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, a family friend of the Wrights or visits to the Connecticut country home of another friend of Danny, Judge Constance Motley, the author of the original complaint in Brown vs. Board of Education, first African-American woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court and first African-American woman appointed to the Federal bench. You missed the opportunity I enjoyed to interact with successful, brilliant public servants, who just happened to be African-American.

A resistance to similarly accept the concept of Barack Obama as our president because of his skin color is grounded in ignorance and a foolish unwillingness to deviate from perceived historical “norms”. In 1841 Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his classic essay Self Reliance, reminded us that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds . . .. “ The expanded quote reads “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.”

I suggest that questioning the propriety of voting for a person with the extraordinary qualifications and life story of Barack Obama because white folks have never before granted a person of color such enormous responsibility differs not from concerning yourself with your shadow on the wall.

We have pursued this grand experiment in governance for nearly 220 years. During the same timeline, science has progressed to the point where we understand that the human species’ capabilities are not dependent upon skin color. We need to be smart about this. The enlightened among us need to do everything it can to make sure that the most qualified candidate is elected president on November 4th. It has never been more important to do so.

Unfortunately, there are too many who choose to live in fear and ignorance and adhere to their foolish consistency to free the country of the scourge of racism in the next two weeks. We address that reality by working harder than we have ever worked to overcome the racism of the unenlightened. We devote our time and money to Senator Obama’s campaign. We identify one or more of Senator Obama’s supporters who need a ride to the polling place on November 4th and make sure they are able to vote. We speak out in public and private gatherings and challenge racist pronouncements. We send an e-mail to everyone on our mailing list, admonishing the recipients to stand up for the ideals we aspire to as a nation. Hell, we write a blog.

The effort is not an easy one. It seems frustrating to have to work so hard to achieve victory in November when the choice is so clear to those of us who compare the candidates on relevant merits. I could add the link to President Shepard’s speech in The American President, again, to motivate you. But, if you’ve read this far, I’ll treat you instead to another passage from Self Reliance:

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.”

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Importance of Being Earnest: Making Something of Your Education as a Qualification for Holding Office

I have spent some time ranting in Prairie Pondering about the effect of belittling education on our political process. Yesterday I received an e-mail forwarded by my father, a strong advocate of quality education, both as a father and as a State Senator, that, more eloquently and succinctly than I, poses relevant questions about the role of education in the selection of our leaders. As it does so, it also poses questions about issues of inherent racism that are undoubtedly coming into play in the Obama vs. McCain popularity contest.

Here is the e-mail. My additional thoughts appear at the end.

Subject: Qualifications and racism

What if things were switched around ?
...think about it.

Would the country's collective point of view be different?

Ponder the following:

What if the Obama had paraded five children across the stage, including

a three month old infant and an unwed, pregnant teenage daughter?

What if John McCain was a former president of the Harvard Law Review?
What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?

What if McCain had only married once, and Obama was a divorcee?

What if Obama was the candidate who left his first wife after a severe

disfiguring car accident, when she no longer measured up to his standards?

What if Obama had met his second wife in a bar and had a long affair while

he was still married?

What if Michelle Obama was the wife who not only became addicted to pain

killers but also acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?

What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?

What if Obama had been a member of the Keating Five?

(The Keating Five were five United States Senators accused of corruption
in 1989, igniting a major political scandal as part of the larger Savings
and Loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s.)

What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?

What if Obama couldn't read from a teleprompter?

What if Obama was the one who had military experience that included

discipline problems and a record of crashing seven planes?

What if Obama was the one who was known to display publicly, on many

occasions, a serious anger management problem?

What if Michelle Obama's family had made their money from beer distribution?

What if the Obama had adopted a white child?

You could easily add to this list. If these questions reflected reality,do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?

This is what racism does. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes

positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in
another when there is a color difference.

Educational Background:

Barack Obama:

Columbia University - B.A. Political Science with a Specialization in
International Relations.

Harvard - Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude

Joseph Biden:

University of Delaware - B.A. in History and B.A. in Political Science.

Syracuse University College of Law - Juris Doctor (J.D.)


John McCain:

United States Naval Academy - Class rank: 894 of 899

Sarah Palin:

Hawaii Pacific University - 1 semester

North Idaho College - 2 semesters - General Study

University of Idaho - 2 semesters - Journalism

Matanuska-Susitna College - 1 semester

University of Idaho - 3 semesters - B.A. in Journalism

Education isn't everything, but this is about the two highest offices in

the land as well as our standing in the world. You make the call.

It probably goes without saying that it requires something comparable to graduating from Harvard Law School Magna Cum Laude for an African American to be taken seriously in our highest levels of political competition. Apparently, for a Caucasian, family lineage suffices in the event the scholastic record is less than stellar.

Keep in mind that both Senator Obama and Senator McCain had to work diligently to achieve their respective levels of success in school. Whatever affirmative action might have been in play to offer Senator Obama admission to Harvard Law School, it had no bearing on his ability to compete and excel as he pursued his law degree, taking on the prestige and responsibility of editing the Harvard Law Review along the way. His success is a testament to his drive, focus, intelligence, stamina, willingness to sacrifice and ability to balance competing demands on his time. I view these as important qualities in one who would be president of the United States.

Similarly, whatever family connections might have been in play to offer Senator McCain admission to the U.S. Naval Academy, they had no bearing on his decision to treat the honor with contempt, waste the resources the Academy had to offer and put his own pursuit of self-indulgence ahead of service to country.

I graduated from high school, college and law school. I finished in something like the top 20%, 30% and 40% of my respective classes. I edited my high school newspaper and worked during most subsequent educational tenures. I knew that, with a little more effort and focus on school, I could have done better academically during each step along the way. Instead, I exerted enough effort to get by and into the next phase of life. I did not have anyone carrying me along. I did not have the luxury of becoming a complete slacker if I expected to avoid welcoming shoppers to Wal-Mart (forget the anachronism, you know what I mean).

On the other hand, either Senator McCain made absolutely no real effort to pursue his free education in Annapolis or he is a moron. To finish in the lower 0.0055% of your class, it's one or the other. Period.

I cannot help but feel that those McCain supporters who point to his family's military heritage
, without honestly assessing Senator McCain's performance in adding to, or detracting from, that heritage, would prefer a monarchy to a republic, government by divine right rather than by democratic determination. Monarchs need no résume other than bloodline. Monarchs ascend to the throne regardless of academic performance or pre-coronation performance by any standard.

Dullard? A product of in-breeding and necessary by-product of the selection system.
Ruffian? Better an ill-tempered bully than a prissy politician like Barney Frank.
Adulterer? Boys will be boys.
Aged? Patience is a virtue and the timing of ascendancy to the throne is God's will.

If society has degraded to the point (AFTER eight disastrous years under a president who similarly disregarded his personal education and relied, instead, on family connections to persevere) that it is willing to seriously consider handing over the reigns of government to a person with John McCain's résume (regardless of his opponent), we may be too ill-equipped to engage in a meaningful discourse, ponder constructive criticism of one another's viewpoints and make choices about our country's future that rely on something other than distrust of all opposing positions.

I'll continue my pondering in a day or so and expand on the issue of racism in the campaign.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Challenging a Culture of Mindless Hate

About a month ago, my mentor Charlie Leck wrote a piece on the Agents of Hate who fill the airwaves with venomous rumor and innuendo as a means of influencing the electorate. Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, and O’Reilly have built careers on playing to the most basic instincts of the conservative public, whipping their listeners into a frenzy through fear mongering directed at Barack Obama and his supporters. This being America, the fear mongers are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and the incredible ratings they generate for their respective media hosts.

Among the charges that are accepted as dogma among fans of the genre include (i) Senator Obama is a terrorist sympathizer, (ii) Senator Obama will sell out Israel to the Palestinians and Hamas, (iii) Senator Obama is a Muslim, (iv) Senator Obama gave $800,000 to ACORN to engage in voter registration fraud, (v) the Democrats are trying to stuff the ballot box in Ohio and steal the election using ACORN and its fraudulent voter registration tactics, (vi) Senator Obama will increase taxes on anyone making more than $42,000 a year, (vii) Senator Obama will push through a Canadian health care system where the government will dictate our medical care, (viii) Senator Obama will fine small businesses that do not provide health care for their employees, (ix) Michelle Obama is an unpatriotic angry Black bitch and (x) Senator Obama supports the anti-American “God Damn America” attitude of his long time pastor, Jeremiah Wright. There are many more core beliefs held by the Right; ten is a nice number to deal with and these rolled off my fingertips.

The problem, of course, is that fear mongering has a way of morphing into hate mongering and persons of little intellect, i.e., the audience in question, has a bad habit of wanting to act on their hate. I share Charlie’s sentiment expressed in his September 17th blog, “It frightens the living day-lights out of me. It makes me fear for the life of someone like Barack Obama and it makes me fear for the future of our country.”

I had already started working on this piece when I watched the third presidential debate tonight. As upset as I was beforehand, the cold reality of how far out of hand this has gotten hit home when the debate participants actually discussed before a national television audience the fact that attendees at McCain/Palin gatherings were chanting for the death of Senator Obama. Again, worked into a frenzy of hate by the blind acceptance of right wing propaganda, the Republican rallies have taken on a mob mentality that, if uttered publicly or privately on an individual basis would result in a visit from the Secret Service and possible criminal prosecution. Since Senator McCain would not disavow his running mate’s characterization of Senator Obama, allow me: Accusing Senator Obama of caring so little for his country that he pals around with terrorists as part of your campaign rhetoric is akin to shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. It goes beyond the pale of the First Amendment and one may not feign ignorance that the characterization may instigate a violent response and encourage extremely misguided vigilante behavior.

The contemporary impact of right wing hate mongering is bad enough. As Senator Obama suggested tonight, it eliminates the ability to have a meaningful discussion of the issues that must be addressed as this country slides toward third world status. Yes, we have a ways to go down that slide. But if you think in terms of not being able to provide adequate health care to our citizenry, of not being able to provide gainful employment opportunities to able-bodied workers, of not having a monetary system that serves as the world’s standard and, rather, is propped up by the lending whims of foreign investors, or of not being able to have any meaningful influence on world affairs because we have bankrupted ourselves in the eyes of other nations morally, militarily and monetarily, then you begin to realize what the stakes are. More than anytime in our history since, perhaps, the election of 1860, we stand on the brink as a nation. A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand.

The ten, “top of my head” characterizations of Senator Obama and his supporters itemized above are all nonsense, easily, and appropriately, dismissible with only a modicum of research accessible to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. It is incumbent upon all of us who have something better to do than sit around listening to The Savage Nation or watching the “Fair and Balanced” Fox network to speak out against baseless character assassination and the politics of destruction.

Today, when a friend enamored with right wing conspiracy theories fretted over Senator Obama’s plan to steal the election using ACORN operatives, I sent him a link to an article quoting Ohio Republicans admitting that safeguards prevented any meaningful fraudulent influence on the Ohio polling. When he made the statement that Senator McCain had never had anything to do with ACORN, I sent him a link to an article describing Senator McCain’s past support for the work of ACORN, even delivering the keynote address at an ACORN sponsored event, complete with photographs of the grateful Senator sitting beaming next to his ACORN host in appreciation for being given a platform to discuss immigration policy.

We can do this. We can demand better of our public servants. In Minnesota, Senator Coleman has disavowed negative campaigning. Whatever his motives, his change of tactics was clearly influenced by the public's negative reaction to the heretofore destructive tone of his campaign. Senator McCain's defense of Senator Obama's character in Lakeville, Minnesota last Friday, delivered to an unidentified, disheveled supporter who is probably thanking God that her back was to the camera, was a start, a seedling planted for a crop of civility. Perhaps Senator McCain, too, realizes we reap what we sow.

It is getting harder and harder to be a Nellie Forbush cock-eyed optimist. But I can't get it out of my heart. This heart is sentimental and patriotic. This heart thinks The American President, scripted by Aaron Sorkin of subsequent West Wing fame, is one of the best movies ever made (partly because this heart is also in incurable romantic). During this campaign, I often think of the climactic speech in The American President, delivered by President Andrew Shepard to a speechless press corps. Sorkin has his American President go on the offensive and, as if with 2008 in mind, speak the truth about his conservative opponent's dishonest campaign tactics. When I watch that speech, time and again, my eyes swell and I find the strength to believe that those of us who see conservative negativism as a desperate attempt to make up for the absence of substantive solutions to our problems are on the right track.

Click the play button on the image below to watch it. It provides a quick, inspirational lesson in democracy. Pay particular attention to President Shepard's description of his opponent's tactics at about 2 minutes into the clip. See if it sounds familiar and, more importantly, see if you don't come away invigorated by President Shepard's closing, ready to help get out the vote on November 4th and thereby save our nation from continuing down the slide.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Detours by the Straight Talk Express

Enough respite from politics. Ten hours is more than enough in troubled times like these. In an effort to show what a fair and balanced guy I am, I have devoted this entire blog to John McCain. If you admire the old salt, here's three minutes of your guy on the small screen. If you are an Obama supporter, you should watch the video, too. And show how fair and balanced you are by passing it on to everyone you know.

As of this writing, this YouTube video has been viewed 6,821,695 times. My guess is that most viewers came away with a particular inclination about who to support in the presidential election. However, it won't mean squat if you don't vote. VOTE!

It Snows Here in the Winter, but . . .


I thought I'd take a brief respite from politics and ponder something else tonight.

Today was an absolutely gorgeous autumn day in Minnesota. It was the kind of day I like to keep in mind when I am freezing here in mid-January, up to my knees in new snow and, although late for an appointment downtown, know that the commute will take at least an extra hour because of the weather. Today was a "because" day. When January comes and I ask myself why I continue to put up with the quasi-sanity of living in a metropolitan area that relies on enclosed skyways as a means of ensuring the survival of its population, the answer is "Because there are days like October 11, 2008".

I slept later than usual this morning, the result of working on a project until 4:00 a.m. When I awoke and looked outside, I decided to capture the day for future reference since I had managed to miss about four hours more of the morning than is normally the case on Meadow Breeze Farm.

My wife Deb and some friends were trail riding through the foliage and even ran into Wheelock Whitney and his wife, who were also out with friends enjoying the day on horseback. Mr. Whitney owns a significant amount of property in the area and, rather than develop it, has made the decision to keep it available for the local equestrian community. Deb and her friends were happy to have the opportunity to thank him for his generosity since they do not normally find the 82 year old benefactor personally on the trails.

I was on a mission to capture the magnificence of our neck of the woods this time of year. I had successfully pursued a similar photographic mission four years ago in one of my last film-based outings. However, this time I had the advantage of using digital equipment and the ease of working with the images on the computer. I made sure I had my polarizing filter and tri-pod and headed to one of the nearby parks. The four year hiatus between autumn shooting events resulted from a series of years where the area's colorful foliage fell victim to autumn rain and wind storms before it fully blossomed into the wonderful cacophany of colors that screamed today. There's rain in the forecast. I do not want to wait until next year.

Some of the results of today's photographic mission, which also included shooting landscapes on a friend's farm in Scandia, Minnesota, later in the afternoon, appear below. Click on them for larger images. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. The colors are even more vibrant in the originals; the postings lose something in the translation.

As a thank you to my readers, I will send an electronic version of any of the images requested by sending me an e-mail. Feel free to make any personal use of the images you choose. My transmitting e-mail will authorize that use so you can show your photo lab you have permission to use copyrighted work. All I ask in return is that you keep reading Prairie Pondering and leave comments to share your thoughts with me and others.






Thursday, October 9, 2008

Why We Need Al Franken in the U.S. Senate

We have less than a month until the election. It is time to quit screwing around, to quit suffering fools and to get serious about making the only choice in Minnesota that will protect us from six more years of support for discredited, disastrous political ideology.

All we need to do is remember how conservative Republicans used every mechanism available to undermine the Clinton Administration to realize that an Obama Administration needs a filibuster-proof Senate to effect the changes we all clamor for. Bill Clinton may have been a philanderer, but neither he nor the country deserved the derailment of public policy voted for by the electorate.

If Norm Coleman is re-elected to serve in a U.S. Senate presided over by Vice President Joe Biden, I guaranty you he will be an outspoken proponent of conservative idealogues and a lapdog for Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others of their ilk.

Specifically, here are the reasons to replace Norm Coleman with Al Franken in the U.S. Senate. They are in no particular order. Any of them individually should suffice.

1. Senator Norm Coleman is a mud slinging hypocrite. If this exchange from a recent press conference with his spokesman, Cullen Sheehan, goes mainstream, the election could be over.

2. Senator Norm Coleman refuses to own up to his record in the Senate. For six years, he championed policies and positions on behalf of the Bush/Cheney administration. Given the fact that Vice President Cheney called Tim Pawlenty just before Pawlenty was going to announce his candidacy for Paul Wellstone's Senate seat and told the House Majority Leader that President Bush supported St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman for the seat, it is understandable that Senator Coleman had a debt to repay. Senator, you made your bed, now lay in it. Quit insulting our intelligence with soundbites and soothing music, claiming that you've pursued a tradition of bi-partisanship. If you are concerned that your positions do not reflect that of most Minnesotans, that's too bad. You should have thought about the consequences of unacceptable positions before the campaign started.

3. Al Franken is a thoughtful, Harvard educated scholar, with the ability to clearly communicate the basis for his positions and the integrity to stand up for what he believes.

4. Al Franken would be a public servant in the mold of Paul Wellstone. Even if he is more liberal than many of us, his voice needs to be heard because, believe me, there are a lot more members of Congress who are much more conservative than most of us and they are not shy about being heard and interjecting their view of the world into legislation. Senator Wellstone was a voice of principle that served to check conservative excesses. Senator Franken would do the same.

5. We should embrace the concept that someone who has absolutely no need to put up with (i) the b.s. that goes with campaigning or (ii) the character assassination that has become embedded in our political process or (iii) the incredible responsibility of serving the public nonetheless wants to share his qualifications for the betterment of us all. Al Franken doesn't need a job. Unlike his opponent, he has been gainfully employed for an extended time in the private sector. He will always have the option to return to the private sector and pick up where he left off. Accordingly, he doesn't need to pander to the basest levels of the electorate just to maintain his personal status quo.

6. We have an aging Supreme Court and, thanks to the appointments of President Bush with the enthusiastic support of Senator Coleman, we have the most conservative Supreme Court since FDR tried to stack the Court in the 1930's. It matters. If you don't want to see the protection of reproductive freedom removed from the U.S. Constitution, it matters. If you believe that voting rights need to be protected, it matters. If you are uncomfortable with allowing the government to confiscate private property from one citizen to turn it over to another private party, it matters. If you believe that women should be able to pursue claims for discrimination in the workplace, it matters. We cannot risk having more conservatives appointed to the Supreme Court. If Senator Coleman is re-elected, he will support a more conservative judiciary either directly under a McCain Administration or as part of a filibuster under an Obama Administration.

7. Same reason as in Number 6 only with respect to the Federal judiciary in Minnesota and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. As the senior Senator from Minnesota, Senator Coleman has played a key role in working with the Bush Administration to appoint our Federal judges. The manner in which they interpret the law and the Constitution starts the process that leads to the Supremes. We should start that process with a more liberal outlook.

8. Enough is enough. Step back and look at the progression of Norm Coleman's life story: liberal SDS activist organizing student protests and building closures at Hofstra University –> Assistant Attorney General under Hubert Humphrey III –> DFL Mayor of St. Paul –> Republican Mayor of St. Paul –> Dick Cheney's hand-picked candidate to run against Paul Wellstone –> national spokesperson (i.e., apologist) for the Bush Administration and strong backer of Bush policies on all major issues –> GOP representative at the 2004 Democratic Convention to provide the media with GOP rebuttals –> self-proclaimed bi-partisan lawmaker working across the aisle to get things done. The consistency? It's all about Norm. Whatever needs to be done for purposes of self-promotion gets done. No opinion is so strongly held that it cannot be changed for purposes responding to the current political wind. If the man had a principled bone in his body, he'd still be a Democrat or he'd have President Bush in town campaigning for him or he'd be willing to stand up and explain and defend his positions on matters other than funding the new 35W bridge.

9. He has failed to heed my plea for relevancy made in my April 29th blog (still available in the archives or linked below in the October 7th, Campaigning in Soundbites, blog). Norm Coleman's negative campaigning has been an insult to all of us. The truth is coming out about the depths of deception the Coleman campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have engaged in in order to smear Al Franken and voters ought to respond appropriately. As an unbelievable example, click here to read the Franken campaign's press release responding to outright character assassination on behalf of Norm Coleman.

Senator Coleman, have you no decency? Have you no substance? Is it all a charade for purposes of self-aggrandizement? Our beloved country faces serious challenges in the years ahead. Its citizens need thoughtful, principled representation. For six years, you held the U.S. Senate seat once occupied by Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Paul Wellstone. What does it say that in reviewing the grand history of that Senate seat, you will not bear mentioning except by way of apology?

There is no excuse, other than disagreeing with the views expressed herein, not to go to Al Franken's website to find ways to help get Al Franken elected. If you want to volunteer, click here. If you want to donate, click here.

The race is close and, as a shout out to my DFL friends who threw in the towel shortly after the convention, convinced Al could not beat Norm: Pick up the frickin' towel and make up for your lost time!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Another Debate: What Does it Matter?

Senator Obama prevailed last night in his second presidential debate with John McCain. Don't bother arguing with me. I have proof positive.

I received a call this afternoon from a friend who contributes five figures annually to Republican causes. He called to tell me that, after listening to last night's debate, he had decided that John McCain just can't stand up to Barack Obama. He felt that Senator McCain lost golden opportunities to challenge Senator Obama on substantive issues and that Senator Obama more than made up for a lack of substance with his powerful, reassuring style.

And then it came: "I'm beginning to warm up to Obama. Can you make sure I won't be on the hit list for contributing to Republicans?" I promised my client a place on an Obama Administration Council of Small Businessmen and grinned like the Cheshire Cat. Eventually my friend will realize there is no lack of substance on the part of Barack Obama. But, in the meantime, the McCain campaign appears to have lost a ladle in its gravy train.

Let's all celebrate this additional brick in the wall of victory for the good guys by clicking here and remembering what it's all about. Excuse me while I take my tongue out of my cheek.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Campaigning In Sound Bites

I have made no attempt to hide my disdain for the lack of meaningful discussion about the candidates seeking elected office the U.S. in less than a month. It seems that each and every campaign has degenerated into promoting soundbites as an alternative to thoughtful debate on the issues. While my Democratic candidates have not been without sin on this issue, the Republicans, saddled with sharing party designation with George W and constantly reaping the sour results of the Bush administration's seeds sown, have been blatant in their efforts to smear their opponents in order to gain votes.

There is growing evidence that the public is getting tired of the tactic. On Saturday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published its most recent Minnesota Poll, claiming that Al Franken had taken a 9 point lead over Norm Coleman in their race for the U.S. Senate. According to the Strib, voters are reacting to Coleman's negative campaign and turning to Franken. Regular readers of Prairie Pondering will recall my appeal for relevance in this campaign in my April 29th blog. Perhaps the tide is turning.

With respect to thoughtful analysis of the presidential race, two pieces came to my attention this morning that bear review. The first is an article that appeared in the Guardian, a British newspaper. Michelle Goldberg wrote a thoughtful piece on Sarah Palin that dissects her debate performance from the perspective of the larger question about her qualifications for office. Read it here.

The second piece comes from my mentor, Charlie Leck, in his ad astra blog. Yesterday, he reviewed an article by Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone Magazine that throws a shining light on John McCain. The article is not flattering. That, sometimes, is the outcome of investigative journalism. It should not matter that the source is an admittedly liberal publication.

Neither those of us considered liberal nor those of us considered conservative need accept the results of Mr. Dickinson's investigation published in Rolling Stone Magazine on its face. However, if we are to rely on anything more than empty slogans to make an informed decision about who to put in charge of our government and in control of our economic, spiritual and basic freedoms, we have an obligation to at least consider what someone who took the time to look behind the curtain has uncovered. If we don't agree with Mr. Dickinson, there should be some basis for the disagreement other than a gut wrenching wish that there was an alternative truth. The absence of a balanced account of Senator McCain's background in Mr. Dickinson's piece does not, in and of itself, make the reporting or the conclusions it reaches inaccurate.

Charlie's blog piece is here. Tim Dickinson's article is here. Please take the time to read them and make good choices.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


I am thrilled that my career as a photography "enthusiast", something more than a hobbyist, has taken me to the point where high school seniors ask if I will photograph their senior pictures. The young adults have a huge emotional commitment to the photos, using them to mark the end of an important phase of their lives. After struggling with my own children to get them to allow Dad to be their photographer, it is more than a little satisfying that I am now in actual demand.

The truth is, I love doing it because it is so relaxing. When I capture just the right image, I am practically misty-eyed. I am able to freeze an instant in time that the subject will proudly point to for years to come. It is an honor to be a part the moment and I love sharing the excitement the subject expresses when they see the result and look forward to circulating it among their friends and family.

What compelled me to post this? I'm still tingling over the results of today's shoot:

Sunday Morning Levity for Saturday Nite Retirees

It's Sunday morning. I'm using my DVR to watch all the morning talk shows (except Fox). I have repeatedly needed to resist the urge to toss a shoe at professional GOP strategists who defend McCain's forthcoming slash and burn campaign as an acceptable form of discourse.

Fortunately, I can tone down my blood pressure with and watch the opening segment on last night's Saturday Night Live. The subject was, predictably, last Thursday's Vice Presidential debate. Before you leave to watch it by clicking here, accept my confession that my word in the drinking game Thursday was "blessed".

Don't forget to come back in a day or so for my thoughts on Minnesota's Senatorial race. I spent yesterday morning as the event photographer for the Al Franken campaign and was privileged and honored to be in the presence of Al Gore, the only man elected to the presidency who did not serve in that office. Vice President Gore's observations are worth pondering.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Veeps on my Mind

I told you so.

If you read my October 1st blog on the then pending Vice Presidential candidates' debate, I predicted the obvious. I predicted that, absent any major gaffes, GOP talking heads would be lavishing praise on Governor Palin and pointing to her performance as proof positive that she is ready to lead this country.

However, my own analysis of the debate results is still guided by the opinion expressed here on Wednesday: "I believe that to be truly qualified to serve our country as vice president or president, one needs to demonstrate more than an ability to avoid looking foolish for 90 minutes."

I do not have time this morning to do a lengthy analysis of the debate. I am getting ready to meet, for the first time, a Nobel Laureate, Al Gore. I am the event photographer for a reception for Vice President Gore and am thrilled to have the opportunity. However, I would be derelict in my pondering if I did not provide my readers with a comprehensive analysis of Governor Palin's performance in St. Louis. Thanks to a tip from one of my nieces, I am able to meet the Vice President AND leave you with all you need to know to intelligently discuss Governor Palin's debating skills. Click here.

One more thing. Personally, I think it is foolish to wink at the audience, repeatedly, during a debate of Thursday's magnitude. So . . .

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Political Analysis during the Days of Repentance

The period between the Jewish High Holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are known as the Ten Days of Repentance. Jews are expected to reflect on their conduct over the past year in order to meaningful ask God for forgiveness for any sins committed on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year.

This year, introspection about one's Judaism invaribly leads to an internal debate about reconciling support for a U.S. presidential candidate with support for the State of Israel. For most Jews, strong support for Israel is the proverbial third rail of American politics. We argue about how, not whether, to support the independence of the Jewish State. As more than 60 years have transpired since the War for Independence, and Israel is still in a state of war with its neighbors, frustrations have grown to a boiling point and questions about the depth of commitment to Israel when balanced against claims of Palestinian Arabs often lead to heated exchanges over which candidate can be trusted.

There is particular concern about Barack Hussein Obama. The combination of the Senator's skin color, middle name, and choice of clergy have provoked much alarm among some in the Jewish community who believe that he cannot be relied upon to stand up for Israel against the pressure from Middle East trading partners. One of my closest friends, an Israeli, is convinced that Jews supporting Obama today are like Germans who welcomed the National Socialist party in the early 1930's. He envisions the same disappointment with the outcome. Similarly, my blood brother in Los Angeles, an active member of A.I.P.A.C., who shares my birthday and has been my best friend for 53 of our 56 years, and whose parents are both Holocaust survivors, does not believe that America can risk electing Barack Obama to the presidency. He does not believe the Senator is a strong enough propenent of Israel's right to exist as an independent Jewish state.

I reject notions that Barack Obama is anti-Semitic or that he is a closet Muslim (which, btw, is fodder for an entire additional blog: so what if he is?). My uncertainty over the impact of his election on the future of Israel is primarily driven by a respect for the opinions of my two friends and a gnawing concern that they could be right. The specter of unwitting Jews encouraging early success of Nazis is a strong one.

Nonetheless, there is no choice in my mind. My support for Senator Obama is no secret. I proudly wear Obama lapel pins and pass out extras in casual encounters to anyone expressing appreciation for the public statement. America is losing its ability to be of meaningful help to anyone as a result of the disasterous policies pursued by Bush/Cheney. McCain/Palin offer nothing but the same, particularly the ability to govern by slogans (Country First, Pitbull with Lipstick) in order to mask the absence of workable solutions to the mess we are in.

It comes down to balancing my fear about the repercussions of modifying U.S. foreign policy to encourage communication with Israel's adversaries with my hope that modifying U.S. foreign policy to encourage communication is the only way we can reassert ourselves as a world leader. Diplomacy is an approach to be embraced, both generally and, with respect to Israel, specifically.

Accordingly, I trust that this country's history of support for Israel, the lessons of the Holocaust, the good judgment of advisors upon whom President Obama will rely and the willingness of an Obama administration to address the underlying issues that foment the tensions and passions so threatening to Israel, will, on balance, be sufficient to protect the interests of the Jewish Homeland.

There is still the gnawing concern. Jews sharing my position need to be vigilant and vocal in a new administration should proposals for unacceptable policies appear. However, even the gnawing concern was lessened when a friend from my Rotary Club, an Israeli, sent me this link. I am not naive enough to think that one video suffices to eliminate all my concerns. However, the opinions contained in the piece are from Israelis who have given the matter some thought and, as frontline soldiers in Israel's quest for peace, have more at stake than I do.

During this time for introspection, I pray that God gives us the wisdom to make the right choices for the future of our country and of our allies. And I fervently pray that enough of us understand the difference between praying for wisdom to make choices and being told what to do by the same Source.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Read My Lips: No Nude Texans!

I know you think you understand what I meant to say, but I’m not sure what I said was what you thought you heard.

I beg my pardon?

THE debate will take place in about 23 hours. In about 24.5 hours the spinmeisters will be spewing analysis supporting respective claims that their vice-presidential candidate triumphed. Listen carefully because I’m willing to bet that most of said analysis will be devoid of any substance.

One of the claims that I am anticipating is something like “Governor Sarah Palin demonstrated her readiness to serve as Vice President and, if necessary, President of the United States because she was able to handle each of the questions asked of her and held her own against Senator Joe Biden. She avoided any vacuous ‘deer in Katie Couric headlights’ moments and yada, yada, yada”.

Assuming for a moment that Governor Palin does actually manage to avoid providing Tina Fey with material for this weekend’s Saturday Night Live, I believe the bar needs to be set higher. I believe that to be truly qualified to serve our country as vice president or president, one needs to demonstrate more than an ability to avoid looking foolish for 90 minutes.

Whatever good work John McCain’s handlers are accomplishing in Sedona, Arizona as I write this, it is impossible to put enough lipstick on a pig to turn the clueless cutie who promised to “get back” to Katie Couric into a competent Commander-in-Chief.

Earlier this week, I incorporated a song from South Pacific into my pondering to invoke a devil-may-care response to the threat of pending financial chaos. Tonight, I’m in more of a Lerner & Loewe mood. The Republicans are praying, literally, that Governor Palin will blossom like Eliza Doolittle after her week at the Henry Higgins ranch, fool Sultan Kaparthy, and be accepted as royalty by high society and the voting electorate.

We must not forget, no matter what gibberish flows from the spinmeisters, that, at the end, my fair lady Eliza Doolittle was an articulate flower girl, but a flower girl nonetheless. Or, to put it another way, as illustrated by the accompanying photographs, even if you create razzle dazzle out of the ho hum, underneath it all it is still ho hum.