Leaving the church. UPDATED

I hope the following is taken as sincere and in good faith. I know it's likely to be controversial at the moment--or would be, if anybody cared about what I think.

I would like nothing more right now than to feel my usual enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate and the Democratic Party. I would like nothing more than to believe wholeheartedly in party unity in the fall. But I don't, and it's not a matter of choice. I can no more convince myself to do so than I can convince myself to fall in love.

Simply put, the treatment that Hillary Clinton received was the most disgraceful and contemptible I have ever seen in politics. Much of it, whether from the party, the press or the blogs, was from people who call themselves Democrats. They convinced themselves and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, that Hillary Clinton was a lying, racist, race-baiting, selfish, anti-Democratic woman who was actively hoping that Barack Obama might be assassinated. Much of the criticism took on a thinly disguised or overt sexism. The critics dismissed her voters, including me, as low-information racist white people.

They said all of this through the very end of the campaign; some of them are still saying it. The party, by and large, stood silent and did nothing meaningful to stop it. Now, a lot of the same people--the ones who promoted the nastiness and the ones who enabled it--are calling for unity and praising Hillary Clinton for her historic campaign.

I wish I could believe they're being sincere. But how could they actually believe all the things they said during the campaign and now praise her and appeal to her voters? I wish I could buy into it. I really wish I could. I don't enjoy feeling alienated from the party I loved. But unfortunately, it will take some time before the extremely sour taste of this campaign washes out. Whether this is weeks, months, or years I can't say.

Today, I switched my voter registration from Democratic to Independent. I didn't do it out of anger, and it didn't bring any satisfaction. It wasn't the cathartic slamming of the door on the way out, but rather the somber realization that an old friend was becoming a stranger.

I'm still a liberal, and proud of it. I still support all the same policies, mostly shared with the Democratic Party, and the same political philosophy. I'm no more inclined to vote for any Republicans than I was before. But for now, I need a break from the party and its official organizations. I'll support candidates and causes as an engaged citizen, and this may very well include Barack Obama. I hope that as time passes, and both the party and I move forward, it will soon be time to reunite.

Thanks for reading.

Update [2008-6-7 15:25:37 by OrangeFur]: Thanks for everyone who recommended the diary and who took the time to write thoughtful responses. I'm pleasantly surprised to see it on the recommended list.

In response to some of the comments, I just want to make a few points, many of which were made, perhaps not emphatically enough, in the original diary.

First, I am still a liberal, and as liberal as I was when the campaign started. I haven't changed my ideals in the slightest, except as happened naturally by listening to the issues discussion of the campaign.

Second, as such, I will very likely continue the same voting patterns as before. I can't imagine myself voting for McCain, for example. Perhaps, having seen the outrage machine ginned up repeatedly for so many silly incidents in the primary, I'll be more skeptical of charges thrown against him by lefty blogs, but I'm under no illusions as to what he and the GOP stand for.

Third, I know that the Democratic Party couldn't care less about my registration or my vote, being one of over 100 million voting Americans. They care a little about my money, judging from the mail I get, but not all that much either. In fact, this indifference is part of the reason I've decided to switch to being an Independent for the time being.

Finally, I want to reiterate that this was not a happy process for me. I've been a Democrat my entire voting life, and was proud to call myself a Democrat not just during the high points (Bill Clinton's presidency, for example) but especially during the low points--in 2004, for example, I took special pleasure in being a defiant member of the political opposition.

Right now I feel as if I've lost my faith or my family. It's not some satisfying anger, but rather an uncomfortable void instead. I look forward to the day when I feel comfortable as an official member of the party again.

Thanks for reading, again.

There's more...

Watch what he does, not what he says.

Note: It is with some trepidation and unhappiness that I write this. But I can't sit by and idly watch what is happening to Hillary Clinton and not speak out.

The incredibly rotten media coverage of this campaign reached a new low this weekend with the manufactured furor over Hillary Clinton's comments about the length of the primary campaign.  I'm not interested in rehashing the tired smears that went ricocheting through the media and blogosphere.

What disturbs me the most, however, is not the behavior of the media, from whom I expect very little after their treatment of Al Gore and John Kerry. My main anger is directed, sadly, at Barack Obama and his campaign, and their deliberate complicity in promoting and perpetuating this scurrilous smear, all the while pretending to be above it.

Yesterday, in a recommended diary here, Obama was widely praised for saying that he accepted Clinton's statement that her remarks about RFK were intended only to talk about the length of the primary contest. In particular, he said this:

"I have learned that, when you are campaigning for as many months as Senator Clinton and I have been campaigning, sometimes you get careless in terms of the statements that you make, and I think that is what happened here. Senator Clinton says that she did not intend any offense by it, and I will take her at her word on that."

How very classy and gracious of him, compared with the evil Clinton. Except, as has happened before, he was beind dishonest. Or lying. Or being a hypocrite. Strong words, I know, but true. His campaign had already helped promote the story the day before--it had issued a statement saying "Sen. Clinton's statement before the Argus Leader editorial board was unfortunate and has no place in this campaign.". In the same 24 hours that Obama was claiming the high road, it turns out.

In addition, the Obama campaign sent the entire political press corps the transcript of a searing commentary about Mrs. Clinton by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC.

There's no getting around this. While Obama was pretending to be above it all, his campaign was actively pushing the appalling notion that Hillary Clinton is waiting around for him to be assassinated.

This would be low enough were it the first time. But it's not. Before the Pennsylvania primary, Obama was doing it again, this time about the notorious Tuzla issue, saying in a debate that we all make mistakes, but then pushing the story afterwards. As Slate's John Dickerson wrote:

At the next train stop, I'm going to stand behind Senator Obama when he speaks. When he's decrying the trivial distractions in politics, I think he may be crossing his fingers behind his back.

As the Senator's campaign train wound from one speech where he denounced tit-for-tat politics to the next speech where he denounced tit-for-tat politics, his campaign hosted a conference call to engage in the practice the candidate was busy denouncing. I suppose it would have been an even greater act of chutzpah for the Obama campaign to host the conference call while Sen. Obama was denouncing that kind of behavior, but not much more of one.

Obama campaign aides scheduled the call to talk about Hillary Clinton's fantastical story about her breakneck race to shelter under sniper fire during a visit to Bosnia. You might think this would be the last story the Obama campaign would be pushing, because in Wednesday's debate the Senator mistakenly suggested his campaign had only discussed the issue because reporters had brought it up, not because they were trying to take advantage of Clinton's extended work of fiction. To push the story again now would make Obama look even more insincere about that claim.

While the candidate was denouncing the distractions, his aides were promoting them. Three veterans of the Bosnia conflict joined for a conference call to explain just how crucial this particular distraction was, and why we should ignore Senator Obama's guidance and get obsessed with this issue.

Add this to Obama's claim that his campaign wasn't pushing the reprehensible notion that Hillary Clinton was race-baiting while his staffers were writing and distributing long memos about it, and we have a pattern.

It's one thing when these are about little things, but Obama's campaign has done this with some nuclear topics--accusing Clinton of appealing to racism, or saying that virtually unspeakable notion that she's waiting around for his death. These are hugely serious issues, and for me, close to unforgivable. If he wants my support in November, and those of many other Clinton voters, he'd better do something pretty extraordinary to make up for it.

There's more...

A Dream Deferred: Who will be the first woman president? [with Awesome Poll!]

This is just a thought exercise, and hopefully not a place for sparring between Clinton and Obama supporters. Let's ease the tensions with some idle speculation.

While Democrats have celebrated the fact that we have an African American and a woman as our final two candidates, this does not feel so much as the beginning of a trend as an isolated incident. After Hillary Clinton, it's hard to see who the next strong woman candidate will be. After Barack Obama, it's hard to see who the next strong black candidate will be. (Of course, it's really hard to imagine anyone being president, but if you pick a random senior Democratic politician out of a hat, you're pretty likely to come up with a white male.)

It was somewhat cruel that two dreams came crashing into each other this year, and that while one will finally be realized, the other will again be deferred, as it has been for the last 232 years.

Let's suppose Obama does win the nomination, and then the general election. Who will be the first woman president, and when will she be elected? Here are my predictions, from most  likely to least likely:

(1) Hillary Clinton:

By far the strongest woman candidate in American history. Her strong performance has made her a party leader and given her the right to run again in either 2012 (if Obama loses) or 2016 (if he wins), depending on who wins this year. Many people will feel it's her turn. The punditry will hopefully be less idiotic than they were this year.

There are some concerns, though. While there wouldn't be many in 2012, she may be too old in 2016, may have to run against Obama's VP (if it's not her), and the terrain will be harder for Democrats after eight years in power. If she can show the same relentless energy she did this year, age may not be an issue.

(2) A Democrat not currently in statewide or federal office:

Sadly, I think this is more likely than (4), below. It's hard to think of any woman Democrat who has expressed presidential ambition, and who might be considered a serious candidate if she did. I hope this is in my lifetime, however, and especially in my mother's lifetime. I do think Clinton's success has accelerated the schedule, and made it easier for women to contemplate running for president.

(3) A Republican not currently in statewide or federal office:

Same as above. It's hard to think of any woman Republican who has expressed presidential ambition, and who might be considered a serious candidate if she did.

(4) A Democrat currently in statewide or federal office:

Clinton has partially broken the glass ceiling, making the idea of a woman president more imaginable than before. Others may be willing to give it a try. On the other hand, I can't think of many senior Democratic women who might run. Nancy Pelosi doesn't seem to be the type. Perhaps one of the current governors or senators, but none has ever indicated presidential ambition. It's doubtful that anyone else, male or female, will try to go from a lower position to the presidency as quickly as Obama.

(5) A Republican currently in office:

Again, Clinton has led the way. Women are reasonably well represented in the Republican Party (as opposed to minorities). Most likely short path is likely through McCain's vice presidency--perhaps Alaska governor Sarah Palin. But very few Republican women have mentioned presidential ambitions, so it's hard to think of who else it might be.

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More math

Is it over? Probably. I assume even Hillary Clinton knows the odds are extremely long. But she has a right to stay in. We don't ask a basketball team to leave the floor trailing by 15 points with two minutes to go. It's not over until it's over.

But let's suppose it is over. Here's a question: In retrospect, when was the race decided?

Here's one answer: January 4, the day after Obama won Iowa.

It was then that Obama officially became a viable candidate, and it was likely then that African American voters began moving strongly in his direction. After cementing his credibility by winning South Carolina, he pulled around 90% of the African American vote from then on. We didn't know it yet, but at that point the nomination was already decided.

Why? The math.

African Americans made up 21% of Kerry voters in 2004; it's not unreasonable to assume they make up a similar proportion of voters in this year's primaries. A 90% lock on a voting block of that size is a huge hurdle for an opponent to overcome.

Consider:

For Clinton to win 50% of the popular vote, she would have had to win 60.6% of the non-AA vote. In other words, she'd have had to beat Obama by 21 points among all remaining voters.

For Clinton to win 55% of the popular vote, she'd have had to win 67.0% of the non-AA vote. In other words, she'd have had to beat Obama by 34 points among all remaining voters.

Put another way, with his support from African Americans, Obama could lose everyone else by 20 points and still win the popular vote.

I'd argue that Clinton had an essentially impossible task in today's Democratic Party, which fortunately has moved considerably from its much more prejudiced past. Is there still some prejudice? Almost surely. But not that much, and not in our party. Given that, among two reasonable candidates, it's asking way too much for one candidate to crush another one by that kind of margin. Twenty points is a landslide. As it happens, Clinton actually got pretty close--depending on whether you count Michigan and Florida, the popular vote margin is around 1 to 3 percent right now. But not close enough.

I bring all this up simply to note that there will inevitably be a lot of criticism for the Clinton campaign, as there always is for any candidate who doesn't win. Maybe if she had done this, or fired that person, or tried a different message, etc. From this interpretation, however, one can argue that she was given a very difficult task, and she didn't quite make it.

----------------------

Now, some important disclaimers:

(1) I know it's dangerous to point out things like the demographic breakdown of the Democratic vote. But it's there in plain sight, and we can't ignore it. Pretty much every campaign strategist and pundit is predicting results based on demographics; it's the elephant in the room. I don't mean to offend anyone.

(2) My own strongly held point of view is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with African Americans voting in such large numbers for one of their own. The history of our country cannot be ignored, and it is one of overt racism up until quite recently and subtle prejudice and persistent inequality since then. It is perfectly acceptable and very respectable for any underrepresented minority to support a favorite son or daughter in a political race. These votes are as legitimate as votes cast for any other reason.

(3) There may be an instinct to "blame" Hillary Clinton for the lopsided African American vote, saying she brought it on herself by making various insensitive remarks. I don't believe that. There were certainly a few people who were genuinely offended, and there was certainly a tacit campaign by the media and (sadly) parts of the Obama campaign to push this, but I think this was at most a minor contribution. To me, most of the lopsided vote came from positive feelings of solidarity/more conventional political support, not negative feelings of injury.

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That just-deleted diary.

A few moments ago there was a diary posted in which the diarist recounted hearing a talk show on FOX radio during which a caller compared Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, apparently because the caller saw that they have oratorical talent. The diarist invited further discussion as to whether Obama is indeed similar to one of the finalists for the worst person in the history of the world.

To the credit of most of the community here, nobody took the diarist up on it. A large number of commenters, many of whom have established records as supporting both Clinton and Obama, harshly criticized the diary, and it has since apparently been deleted.

If I were to go with my more suspicious instincts, I'd say that the diary was intended as a trap. The diarist has a long history of pro-Obama posts and diaries. I'm guessing this was (1) an attempt to make MyDD look bad by having such a diary here (2) an attempt to make Clinton supporters look bad by encouraging them to agree with the sentiment that Obama is indeed like Hitler, or (3) an extremely tasteless joke played on the diarist by someone with access to his/her computer.

In any case, I congratulate the MyDD community for its reaction to the diary. You didn't fall for it, and dismissed it as it deserved. Obviously we'd had a lot of arguments around here of late, but it's good to know we haven't gone that nuts--though admittedly this episode set a very low bar for passing.

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You asked for evidence. Here it is.

Last night I wrote a diary on my view of the highly unfortunate eruption of racial politics in this primary. For the most part, it described my deep disappointment at the way the Obama campaign has pushed the race card in this campaign. Some people responded by casting doubt on my truthfulness (to put it charitably) and demanding evidence, which by itself is not unreasonable.

Original diary: http://www.mydd.com/story/2008/3/12/4584 0/3701

I don't really feel like doing a whole lot of new research, since the topic is utterly depressing, but I will copy and paste a few examples I compiled when this was last an issue in the week or so after the New Hampshire primary. (I refrained from posting it then because the candidates agreed to an informal truce, but it is sadly relevant again.)

Keep in mind that all of these examples are from just five days in January, and that they all have to do with Obama staffers or Obama himself. These aren't random supporters who are unaffiliated with the campaign.

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Playing the race card.

I'm tired today. Just plain tired. Too tired to be anything else.

What began as a dream primary has become a nightmare. We've gone from having a deep field of strong candidates to celebrating two historic finalists to suffering through an acrimonious personal battle that has loosed some of the most explosive issues in American politics and society.

As people often say, politics ain't beanbag. Even in a Democratic primary, I expect candidates to criticize each other harshly, even personally. They'll accuse each other of exaggerating their own accomplishments, or distorting their opponents' records, or being beholden to some unsavory influence. That's part of the game. After one candidate eventually prevails, we take a deep breath, get together behind the winner and are united again.

But not everything is fair play. Even war has rules, and the political equivalent of going nuclear is accusing someone of racism or appealing to racism. I can forgive candidates for just about anything their campaign managers can dream up, but a few things go too far, and this is one of them.

After well over three centuries of rampant and institutionalized racism, we've finally started making serious progress towards ending it in the last fifty years or so. The process is still incomplete--only the very naive would think that we've moved beyond it. But there have been real accomplishments, and one of these is that racism is universally believed to be one of the most repugnant traits a person can have. A person who is found out to be racist is properly ostracized and removed from acceptable society. Their public careers, if any, are almost instantly finished (see James Watson or Michael Richards), and usually, if history remembers them at all, it is for being racist. There is no easy redemption.

This comes with a consequence, however. Extremely serious charges  require extremely strong evidence, and there are few charges more serious than racism. If you accuse someone of racism, you are seeking to end that person's public life. You had better have ironclad, unambiguous evidence. Ideally this would be something like video of that person repeatedly calling someone a n*** at a comedy club, or video of that person looking into the camera and calling the cameraman a racially derogatory term, such as "macaca".

It is for this reason that I find the casual throwing of charges of racism in this campaign so extremely disappointing. It is bad enough when it's random bloggers, such as Kos, accusing the Clinton campaign of darkening Obama's face or stretching his features; or isolated academics such as Orlando Patterson, who seems to think that stock footage of children sleeping is somehow reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan. There it's just the fringes of our everyday discourse.

What is far less forgivable is when a campaign itself resorts to such tactics, and regrettably, that's what the Barack Obama campaign has chosen to do. They first did so after New Hampshire, when a series of Obama officials, including Obama himself, tried to make hay out of a number of innocuous comments by Hillary Clinton and others--the whole MLK/LBJ thing, the "fairy tale" comment, etc. The racially loaded confrontation then threatened to spiral out of control, but both sides quickly called a truce and pulled back from the brink. The issue seemed to die away, much to the relief of just about everyone.

This week, though, it came back. Once again, the initial sparks--a photo of Obama in tribal clothing and Hillary Clinton's interview on 60 minutes--came from overly excited blogs, but the Obama campaign quickly picked up on them. Obama himself accused the Clinton campaign of circulating the photo, and David Axelrod today talked about an "insidious pattern". It doesn't get any more official than that.

[I realize not everyone agrees with my interpretation of events, but I don't think I'm alone in believing them--not by a long shot. I also understand that certain comments, such as those by Geraldine Ferraro, could be legitimately considered insulting, but even then they're not necessarily racist (just as saying that Clinton's success stems in part from her husband's career isn't necessarily sexist), and in any case Hillary Clinton has disavowed them.]

That the Obama campaign, and Obama himself, are throwing these charges as if they were water balloons is to me the single most disturbing development in this campaign. I'm not sure whether they're manufacturing their outrage or if they actually believe it, and I'm not sure which would be better. But that they're willing to impugn the names and reputations of so many Democratic Party stalwarts to help Obama get elected is very difficult to overlook.

Reading all of the back-and-forth between the campaigns and on the blogs has been depressing. The deepening disparities in the primary votes doesn't help. What should have been a cause for celebration in our party--the nomination of an African American or a woman to lead us--is now one minefield after another. Listening to it all today, I'm not even angry anymore. I'm just tired.

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More on Obama and Afghanistan

Some new information from The Hill, a newspaper devoted to covering Congress, came out last night on Barack Obama's service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with regard to Afghanistan. On its face, it is not flattering to Obama.

First, some context.

The fact that Barack Obama has not called a single policy hearing for the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs since becoming its chair in January 2007 has been percolating for a while, but gained prominence last week when Hillary Clinton brought it up in the debate in Ohio. While the subcommittee has jurisdiction over a wide range of issues, the immediate context was Afghanistan, and the subcommittee's role in overseeing U.S. relations with NATO, which is playing a critical role there. Obama's response was that he's been busy campaigning since becoming chair, but that his position on Afghanistan is clear:

SEN. CLINTON: But I also have heard Senator Obama refer continually to Afghanistan, and he references being on the Foreign Relations Committee. He chairs the Subcommittee on Europe. It has jurisdiction over NATO. NATO is critical to our mission in Afghanistan. He's held not one substantive hearing to do oversight, to figure out what we can do to actually have a stronger presence with NATO in Afghanistan.

You have to look at the entire situation to try to figure out how we can stabilize Afghanistan and begin to put more in there to try to get some kind of success out of it, and you have to work with the Iraqi government so that they take responsibility for their own future.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Obama, I want you to respond to not holding oversight for your subcommittee. But also, do you reserve a right as American president to go back into Iraq, once you have withdrawn, with sizable troops in order to quell any kind of insurrection or civil war?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, first of all, I became chairman of this committee at the beginning of this campaign, at the beginning of 2007. So it is true that we haven't had oversight hearings on Afghanistan.

I have been very clear in talking to the American people about what I would do with respect to Afghanistan.

This struck me as a surprisingly weak response to an issue that has been out there for more than a month. In Obama's defense, some folks on the blogosphere responded that (1) a junior senator doesn't have much influence anyway, (2) congressional committees and subcommittees are a waste of time, (3) nothing much is happening in Europe, and most convincingly to me, (4) while NATO is under the jurisdiction of Obama's subcommittee, Afghanistan itself is not--it can be addressed either from the Foreign Relations Committee as a whole, or John Kerry's subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs.

New from The Hill

As a follow-up to that, The Hill reported that Obama's attention to Afghanistan outside of his own subcommittee is, shall we say, sparse:

Obama absent at Afghanistan hearings
By Sam Youngman
Posted: 03/01/08 11:17 PM [ET]

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who has come under fire about his readiness to be commander-in-chief, missed two of three Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on Afghanistan since joining the panel.

Obama has said the U.S. should have stayed focused on fighting al Qaeda in Afghanistan while repeatedly criticizing his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), and presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) for their votes in favor of a resolution backing the Iraq war.

But since joining Foreign Relations, Obama has missed three meetings on a "new strategy" in Afghanistan, a country he has never visited.

Obama was absent from a January 31 meeting this year, and also was not present for a hearing on Sept. 21, 2006. He did attend a March 8, 2007 hearing on a new Afghanistan strategy.

On Feb. 15, 2007, Obama also missed a committee hearing on U.S. ambassadors to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama continually touts his initial and prescient opposition to the war in Iraq and the subsequent distraction away from Afghanistan. He has a right to do this as a candidate. But he has shown very little actual legislative interest in Afghanistan, even as he is calling for more American troops to be sent there. Not only has he not used his own subcommittee to educate himself, the Senate, and the public on NATO's role in Afghanistan, he apparently has also not taken advantage of opportunities on the full Foreign Relations Committee as well.

(I should note that all the information I have on this is from the article. If there is good counterbalancing information, please let me know.)

The broader concern.

Somehow we as a voting public have arrived at a mentality that in running for President, it's an advantage to have less experience and less understanding of government than more. Candidates are forever running as outsiders and not having been drawn into the failed ways of Washington. For whatever reason, for what is by far the most important and complicated job in the world, we've decided that the more time you've spent learning about it, the less qualified you are.

But obviously this isn't really productive, and politics isn't just about getting elected. I want to have confidence that my president isn't merely good at giving speeches and getting votes. I want to know that he or she takes the process of governing seriously. It may be fine not to be well-versed in the intricacies of congressional process, but it is not fine to not have a deep understanding of the real issues at stake and a real intellectual hunger for the intricacies of actual policy. And for this reason, I am not yet comfortable with the idea of President Barack Obama. I want to know that he takes governing every bit as seriously as campaigning. And when I find out that he has been almost completely absent on an issue on which he frequently praises himself, it is worrying.

For comparison, as Steve Clemons (who originally discovered that Obama had held no hearings) noted, both the same Senate subcommittee under Republican control and the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe have both been much more active.

In the 109th Congress (2005-2006), the Senate subcommittee was chaired by George Allen, who has never had a reputation for hard work or intellectual stature. And yet I found at least three hearings that Allen chaired:

The Lifting of the EU Arms Embargo on China, March 16, 2005

U.S.-E.U. Regulatory Cooperation on Emerging Technologies, May 11, 2005

Islamist Extremism in Europe, April 5, 2006

Allen even had the excuse that he was running in a high-stakes election himself, one that he would eventually lose to Jim Webb.

The House counterpart to Obama's subcommittee has been very active as well, holding at least nine hearings since January 2007, under chair Robert Wexler (Florida).

11/14/2007 U.S.-Greece Relations and Regional Issues

10/3/2007 America's Role in Addressing Outstanding Holocaust Issues

6/20/2007 Adding Hezbollah to the EU Terrorist List

5/24/2007 Expanding the Visa Waiver Program, Enhancing Transatlantic Relations

5/3/2007 Do the United States and Europe Need a Missile Defense System?

4/17/2007 Extraordinary Rendition in U.S. Counterterrorism Policy: The Impact on Transatlantic Relations

3/28/2007 Opening up of the Bad Arolsen Holocaust Archives in Germany

3/22/2007 Polling Data on European Opinion of American Policies, Values and People

3/15/2007 U.S.-Turkish Relations and the Challenges Ahead

As we can see, there are some highly important issues here, including relations with Turkey (a country much in the news for its involvement with Iraq), missile defense, extraordinary rendition, and others. Obviously, as a House member, Wexler is never really not campaigning.

And for completeness, because everything is always about Hillary Clinton in the end, she has been chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health, whose glamorous charter includes oversight of toxic waste dumps, brownfields, and other exciting topics. She has held three hearings since January 2007:

October 17, 2007 - Oversight Hearing on the Federal Superfund Program's Activities to Protect Public Health

July 25, 2007 - Oversight of the EPA's Environmental Justice Programs   

June 20, 2007 - EPA's Response to 9-11 and Lessons Learned for Future Emergency Preparedness

Obviously Hillary Clinton has also been busy campaigning every bit as much as Obama. But she didn't use that as an excuse to not do her job as chair--in fact, her latest hearing was in October, when the campaign was already in high gear.

Conclusion?

While I strongly support Hillary Clinton, I understand that Obama is the clear frontrunner and the likely nominee of our party. I want to be comfortable with the idea of him as president. And while he's clearly intelligent and hugely charismatic, I want to get a sense that he wants more than the idea of being president. I want to know he wants to do the job of being president, in all of its tremendous workload and its tedious but critical detail. And his record in this matter is distressing, to say the least.

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The Grand Unification Theory on Obama, NAFTA, and Canada

Disclaimer: I support Hillary Clinton. However, I try to be as objective as possible when understanding the news. No doubt a lot of people will disagree with my conclusions, or my objectivity. I hope we can keep it polite, however. Also, apologies for the length.

There's been a lot of news these last two days about Barack Obama's position on NAFTA, started when CTV, a generally respected Canadian network, reported that a senior Obama campaign official had privately warned the Canadian government via its US ambassador that while Obama would criticize NAFTA, his words shouldn't be taken seriously.

Since then, there's been much back and forth between the Canadian government, the Obama campaign, CTV, a few other news sources, and to a lesser extent, the John McCain campaign and the Clinton campaign. Getting all of this sorted out is difficult, but since this is potentially important, I thought I'd try to assemble and summarize what is known.

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Mario Cuomo, Barack Obama, and Building "Our Great Democratic Party"

In all likelihood, Barack Obama will be the Democratic Party's nominee for president this fall. As Hillary Clinton has repeatedly said, we will have a unified Democratic Party going into the November elections. There is no question of that. We all want to win the White House and enlarge our majorities in Congress. But beyond that, the question remains--for what purpose?

I've made no secret of my apprehension about Barack Obama on this site. Much of my consternation on issues has to do with what I think are his excessively timid proposals on the hugely important issues of health care and the housing crisis, and the unfortunate conservative-minded rhetoric that he often uses to defend them. However, these also tie into a larger more fundamental skepticism about Obama--that his campaign is more of a case for himself than a case for the Democratic Party, and more of a call for post-partisan unity than a declaration that the Democratic Party is the right party to lead America back to its ideals.

Now there are plenty of people here who argue in good faith that Obama will do more to establish a Democratic majority than Clinton. Most of these arguments are based on Obama's higher appeal among independents and Republicans, contrasted with the higher negative ratings that Clinton has accumulated over sixteen years in the national spotlight. I see this differently, however. There are two ways to grow the Democratic Party. The easier way is to dilute our party's message, to soften our ambitions and to seek compromise for its own sake--namely, to move our party towards new voters. The harder, but much more rewarding, way is to convince independents and Republicans that our ideas are better, that the policies and ideals that we support are the right ones--in other words, to move new voters into our party.

My fear is that Obama, despite the rhetorical brilliance first demonstrated at the 2004 convention, has chosen to commit the party to the wrong way. A look through his speeches tends to find very few mentions of the Democratic Party. When he uses the word "Democrats", it is likely to be contained in a phrase about bringing them together with Republicans, or blaming both of them for our nation's problems, as in this excerpt from his victory speech after the Potomac primaries:

It's a game where Democrats and Republicans fail to come together year after year after year, while another mother goes without health care for her sick child. That's why we have to put an end to the division and distraction in Washington, so that we can unite this nation around a common purpose, a higher purpose.

While listening to one of his speeches, you might indeed experience an epiphany and realize that you have to vote for Barack Obama, but he is not trying to spark a companion epiphany that you should also vote for other Democratic candidates. It is true that he appeals to conservative-minded pundits such as Andrew Sullivan, David Brooks, George Will, and the New Hampshire Union Leader, but it is not because they've suddenly become liberal--rather, it is because they perceive that Obama himself is not, or at any rate, is not particularly committed to liberal values. They are not now Democrats; at the most they are that other creature of Obama's creation--the Democrats-for-a-day.

In contrast, the right way is exemplified by another barn-burning, roof-raising convention speech, that of Mario Cuomo at the 1984 convention in San Francisco. This was truly a speech for the ages--a bold, unapologetic, emphatic affirmation of the Democratic Party and its values. It is worth watching in its entirety (a long excerpt and full transcript is available at http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches /mariocuomo1984dnc.htm), but here is a clip and a few key excerpts:

What's the difference between the Democratic and Republican parties?

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

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

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

What about the president, Ronald Reagan?

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

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

Please. [beckons audience to settle down]

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

What have the Democrats ever done?

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

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

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

Mario Cuomo would never say that Reagan helped curbed the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s, or that he brought the nation a return to clarity, dynamism, and entrepreneurship. He would not ever buy into the Republican meme that government had grown and grown without accountability. He would not portray universal health care as the government forcing you to buy something you can't afford. He would not say that the GOP has been the party of ideas. He wouldn't say that Democrats and Republicans are equally to blame for the lack of progress in Washington. He would understand that to truly build the Democratic Party and to truly get the kind of liberal progress we so badly want and need, we can't just tell people to elect us to work with Republicans--we have to convince them that the Democratic Party is the party of progress, the party of better ideas, and the party whose vision for our country is the one that they share. That's the kind of candidate I want leading my party--our great Democratic Party.

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