Friday, September 26, 2008

Debate #1 Gut Reaction

There wasn't a winner or loser. What we generally had was a very clear representation of the differences between these two candidates. So, let's say that for the good of democracy the debate was informative and helpful. Yes, McCain was on the offensive more toward the second half of the debate but that is not surprising. First, we need to question if being on the offensive is always going to prove to be a better communication method. Underneath the more aggressive approach, what has McCain told us about himself? That he has more experience than Obama and that Obama "just doesn't seem to understand...." How many times did McCain use this very forceful caracturization of Obama's position.

Contrast the number of times McCain used that condescending comment to the number of times Obama said, "I beleive John is right, but...." Obama demonstrated an ability to dive into the complexities of each question. Acknowledging what McCain was right on allowed him to the pivot and move deeper into the nuances that such complex issues descerved.

McCain on the other hand represented a black and white interpretation. How many times did Obama need to correct McCain's summary statements on Obama's own positions?

What we might want to wonder is: does McCain distort Obama's positions intentionally? Or is it simply that his world is so black and white that he can't help but misunderstand Obama? If McCain is elected, which would be worse? To have president who manipulated his way into the White House through Rovian style politics by twisting his opponents words, or a president whose worldview is so rigid that he cannot understand complexity. Their differences on talks with hostile foreign leaders is a case in point here. McCain is old school and assumes that sitting down to a table with a dictator means that we are validating that dictator's rhetoric. Obama, on the other hand, wants to cut through the rhetoric and look the dictator in the eye.

I was very impressed with McCain's quick and easy handle of the international scene. He did get hot under the collar, but he didn't self-sabotage like I had assumed based on his track record in the public eye since a week ago Monday when the Wall St. crisis hit the fan. However, the question that Obama left in our minds is, what does all of McCain's experience amount to? Is he really as maverick as he poses? Will all this experience in an old school politician be the right kind of leadership that we need for the next four years?

We haven't learned anything new this evening. We have been privledged to a more three dimensional representation of the two candidates than what our news media thus far has been able to offer us. I'd say tonight was a win for voters in helping them understand just what they are voting for.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ahemmm...Palin's International Diplomatic What?

This little clip below not only reflects on Sarah Palin. It reflects on John McCain who invited her to be his running mate the day after he interviewed her. I'll say it again: reckless. I can't wait for the debates Friday night. I personally don't want Obama to come out swinging. I know he will disappoint a lot of his democratic base by seeming weak. Some people want a KO in the first round, but that won't serve the kind of long term, dignified discourse that our politicians need to nurture under the next administration. McCain would benefit more by a rough and tumble. Obama needs to be poised, patient, articulate and generous with his interactions. The same goes for Joe Biden when he gets his turn with Sarah Palin. Even in this most intense season of economical, climate and foreign crisis, we need to be able to trust our politicians to be able to work together My prediction is that Palin and McCain will self-sabotage all on their own just like they have already been doing since a week ago Monday. Here is an example of what I'm talking about:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

One Funny & One Serious

With the debates beginning this Friday and with our incredible economic fiasco, I'm glued to the web and NPR trying to pick up bits and pieces here and there trying to make sense of all that is going on. Let's just say that we have just entered into a whole new conversation about government oversight/regulation of our "free" markets. For the rest of our lives we will be looking back at September 2008 to learn from this economic collapse. For some people it will be remembered with more fear and pain than the 9/11 attacks. So, with all that is up in the air right now I offer you some comedy relief and also the clear thoughtfulness of George Will to help you make sense of these things in your minds and hearts.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Cizik, A Pro Obama Evangelical Republican?

Wow. This is interesting although speaking at Colorado College is preaching to the choir. I don't know much about this man. I'm not endorsing him. This just seems interesting--to find someone who has stood up to Dobson and others and has survived. It is a sign of the shift within Evangelicals. Dobson isn't revered in the same way he was even during the last election. My hope is that more Evangelicals like him speak out and continue to demonstrate that you can be very conservative theologically and apply those ideas progressively. This may seem crass, but I mean it sincerely: it is impossible for us to consider that Jesus could ever be a one issue voter. He participated in the creation of the whole of the cosmos. He'd be concerned about so many issues that face us today. Click Here

Richard Cizik, the chief lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, was named one of TIME's 100 most influential people.
Richard Cizik, the chief lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, was named one of TIME's 100 most influential people.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I'm Not Surprised

This past week has been a maelstrom. Christian friends have been exchanging emails of encouragement as we face the realities of our economic failings. The meltdown has dominated the top of the news lines and has become the chosen ball for our presidential candidates to bat back and forth at each other. Much of the world is freaking out. I’m not surprised by any of this.

In the process of buying and selling homes (two times buying, one time selling my house in Oklahoma and also watching Susanna sell her condo in Tallahassee) I experienced first handedly the suffocating power of bureaucracy. Bankers, insurance agents, inspectors, title companies, hidden fees, visible fees that I couldn’t understand, real estate agents on both side of each transaction, their fees, the forms, the, mountain of paperwork, the amount of signatures, witnesses and the parlay of offers, counter offers, the etiquette, lawyers and closing day. At every turn you as a buyer and also as a seller feel like you are being had by a countless number of people who have developed this elaborate charade in order to find sneaky ways to get at your money. They snip a seeming little tiny fee here and there and make six figures each at the end of the year.

When I was debating the counter offer from the seller of my first home, I worried that my mortgage company had short changed me by raising my interest rate half a point from the time of their original quote. On the phone, commiserating with my Dad, his point was: look at it this way…if they don’t get your money here today, they will figure out another way to get it tomorrow.

If this is the status quo for the real estate industry (think now of Frannie Mae and Feddie Mac) then how can it not be the same for every other industry?

I used to explain that industry is made up of the time card puncher and the entrepreneur—the faithful blue collar who works tirelessly to feed and keep his or her family warm and the people at the top who find new and different kinds of widgets to make. I thought of myself as the cantankerous, gad-fly educator, who sits annoying outside of industry wondering, why they hell are they making those widgets in the first place?

This is how I spread it out:
entrepreneurs (1%)
educator/philosopher/skeptics (9%)
workers (90%)

Now I’m realizing that I’ve not been accounting for all those upper-mid level entrepreneur/bureaucrats…those people who don’t think up new widget, not the people who make them either, but those people who sit behind desks figuring out ways to insert hidden fees, to add important extra paperwork (more fees), those people who complicate the systems so much that we can’t fully understand exactly what we are paying for.

Help me think through this. What is the spread then?
Entrepreneurs (1%)
Educators (9%)
Bureaucrats (35%)
Workers (65%)

Maybe we can equate lobbyists to the bureaucrats when we compare industry to government? Hidden fees equal earmarks?

Our legislation contains pork and now our society is facing the reality and the consequences that our economy and industry have pork too. We are reaping the confusion that we have sown.

My hope is that this will only thrust Obama further into the lead as voters choose to hope in a change in leadership. I am not naive to believe that our present economic troubles are the result of the last eight years failures by Bush alone. I implicate him in our crisis mostly because of all the money that has been wasted on military. The total spent on Iraq now is over $1 Trillion. However, these were systems that were in place before Bush. The “old boy” network didn’t start with George Bush Jr. or Sr. for that matter. Every system needs to be critiqued. We need objective criticism to suss out weaknesses and restructure. The failings of health care, social security, the over expenditure on Defense, and the deficit are all governmental counterparts to the present failings of private industry. We take our cars in for tune-ups and we take our bodies in for check ups, why isn’t America capable of putting its governmental and economic systems through the cleaners too? Is it our limitations as a two party system? Why have we allowed things to get so bad?

All solutions lead to dissolution. All theses have anti-theses. Hopefully this next decade will lead us back to some sort of synthesis.

Consider how many people live beyond their means by maxing out credit cards. What is happening with our national economy is that same kind of recklessness only millions of times worse.

Again, I do not believe that Obama will solve the crisis either. I just believe he will be better at shaking things up precisely because he is new, young and a Washington outsider. I really liked his joke this week. Something to the effect...all McCain needs to do is call a staff meeting! [said in response to the idea that McCain will challenge the "old boys club" cronyism of Washington].

Now then, why is it that the educators/philosophers/skeptics are so clearly counter cultural in our society? Why are prophets never appreciated in their own hometowns? Why did Socrates drink the hemlock? It’s because educators rock the boat. They hold up a mirror in one hand and a magnifying glass in the other. Let’s look at ourselves and let’s look closely at ourselves. Instead of pretending that everything is all right. Let’s look underneath the surface. Let’s do some spring cleaning. Let’s identify our mistakes, own them and learn from them. Let’s rebuild and restructure. Let’s relearn old lessons. Let’s not be surprised that we have work to do. Oh, and let's better fund education too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Generational Gap & McCain's Reckless VP Choice

A good friend recently emailed me and asked when my next installment would be posted in light of the intensity of the November election that is racing towards us. My confession is that I don’t know who is really reading these posts. I thrive off of interaction—even responses that are contrary or challenging. I love dialogue. I love the classroom. So, thanks to Josh Bottomly’s encouragemnt, here are some more thoughts/concerns about the presidential race.

I’m scared. I’m scared not just about this present race, but I’m finding myself feeling light headed and nauseous about our election process as a whole. Our democracy is being sullied and is degenerating into 15-second video/sound bytes. We are not a thinking people. We are a grossly consumerist society that doesn’t know how to think or talk about what is good for us and so we buy into whatever is most artfully handed to us.

Let’s stop and think about this. Some court cases can last years with the work of many crackpot, expert attorneys and investigators building a case on either side of an issue. We presume that there is thorough inquiry and research and the selection of an unbiased jury—all those things that we call “due process.” It is a less than perfect system of justice, but it is nevertheless intense and its aim is at being thorough and impartial. All of this judicial work is poured into one single court case.

In contrast, with the presidential election we, as a country, are working toward a decision that affects literally the whole of the world and the courtroom is infinitely bigger. The courtroom in this situation here decides the highest-ranking public official in our country and the most powerful political leader in the world—and this decision teeters back and forth on the edge of a knife held in balance by the whims of popular opinion. And what is most frightening is that our public opinion is informed by the media. Who is more powerful today than the president of the United States? Fox News, CNN, MSNNBC, the Washington Post, New York Times, and et al.

What causes the stock market to rise and fall? Speculation. Public opinion. Gut feelings about the hopefulness of a commodity. What causes a presidential candidate to rise or fall in the polls? Speculation. Public opinion. Gut feelings based on the amount of positive press, the good face time a candidate has on internet blogs and the Associated Press.

I had been formerly optimistic that Obama’s sexiness would get him elected. Put him up on the screen next to McCain. It is like putting Roger Federer up next to John McEnroe or Kobe Bryant next to Larry Bird (wow, I just used a sports analogy…the earth must’ve sifted on its axis). I’ve been optimistic because sex sells and for once in my life I was glad that our consumer addiction to newer, faster, sleeker, and sexier might lead us into a new kind of presidential leadership that could be a watershed for White House administrations for years to come. It is not so much that I have high hopes that Obama is going to radically change America and fix all our problems. It is that he will introduce America and it’s representatives to a much more sophisticated and elegant kind of public discourse, one that is able to govern in light of the complexities of our present day and age. His sex appeal is more than his visual image. It is his poise, his eloquence, his tact. Perhaps this is what his opponents misread as “uppity”? Well if a sophisticated use of language, a generous deference to the complexities of any single issue, and a calm and collected posture define “uppity,” then I want to be uppity too.

As Obama has said, we are functioning in a 21st century with a 20th century bureaucracy. What even more fundamentally is Obama’s sexy appeal? It is that he represents a new generation. In my mind and heart it is time for the baby boomers to move on. Health care, social security, their obsession with militarization, the failings of our educational system, the abuse of the environment…all these things are not going to be restructured and renovated by our parents. They don’t have enough time left. These issues are the younger generation’s unfortunate inheritance and we’ve got some work to do. And I want Obama, not to solve everything, but to set the younger generation on a course pointed in a good direction. In this situation it is not a matter so much that newer and sleeker is necessarily always better. I was never a fan of new Coke and I’m just happy in worn jeans and an older hand me down car from my dad to drive to work. I’m a fan of tradition. I am not interested in defying the boomer generation just for the sake of defiance. In fact it is Obama who seems to be aligning himself with the democratic tradition that made America great and the neo-conservativism that got us into this tangle in Iraq that is the aberration Historians for years to come and will see George Bush Jr. as the rogue fanatic, but alas that is a huge topic that would take many more blogs to explore. I’d only like to point you to my favorite essay by T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” Here Eliot so keenly says, “to conform merely is to not conform at all.” The best way to work within the tradition of American democracy is to test it, push and pull on it and to interpret it to our present circumstances. Obama is just the right kind of leader who can help us apply our treasured constitutional democracy to the 21st century.

If I haven’t lost the very readers I’m trying to persuade, let me continue back on track here.

So it was with great shock that a dear friend of mine, someone from the boomer generation (who will remain nameless), announced that he was impressed with McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin. How has McCain been represented by the media prior to the Palin pick? He was seen as a cranky, ill tempered, often spacey, gaffe-prone, clone of George Bush. Now that he’s got Sarah Palin he comes across like a sweet, generous grandpa who is asking his younger daughter to help him run the company.

Sex sells almost everything, but I’m scared because when push comes to shove for this next election—when the next president is what we are buying—voters are quicker to run back home to the comfort of mom and dad and grandma and grandpa to take care of us. Sarah Palin doesn’t appeal to voters primarily as a maverick “barracuda” who is out to attack Obama. She appeals as the cool mom who lives in the house down the street. Mom with chutzpa, with attitude. Hillary in contrast is that crazy aunt who might be really smart but is never taken very seriously when she rants at the dinner table on Thanksgiving.

When Americans want to look good on Friday night and when they want to impress out on the street, they get flashy clothes, buy fancy cell phones and drive nice cars. When they want someone to balance their budgets, do the laundry, work on the plumbing and watch the kids, they call mom and dad.

Obama, the smart, good looking, eloquent, straight talking neighbor? Or McCain, the persnickety, gruff, confused, but loveable grandpa? This race has always been a generational divide. McCain picked Sarah Palin, not because of her experience but because she helps him tell American voters the story he wants to tell, the one where he plays the character of that quirky grandfather that you love to love. Conservatives want to believe this story in all its wholesomeness. In this story (with the help of the religious right) its the democrats who are the bully bad guys, the secularists, intellectuals, bleeding hearts, who are shifty and not to be trusted. Each of us come to our decisions with our whole beings engaged in the process. We decide not just with our minds but with our past, our past formation, training, education, and upbringing. This creates in us a bias for better or worse. My fear is that the predominant bias of the voting population makes voters into suckers for so called stability, security, and reliability that McCain wants to sell.

Discerning minds will see right through McCain’s VP choice as an example of McCain’s unreliability instead. The big card that McCain supporters continue to play in defending the Palin choice is the notion that she has more “executive” experience than Obama. It is insane to try to compare eight years of executive leadership of a town of 9,000 to Obama’s years of teaching law, his work in Chicago and time in the Senate. Yes, he is younger and has no “executive” experience, but he has been studying Washington and international politics and has been engaged with it in a very informed way that allows him to be a fresh force of change in Washington. Just a few days ago Sarah Palin made her first gaffe by confusing the role of Fannie Mae as a government agency. What in the world? Is this woman ready to oversee our economy?

Palin has come from nowhere (almost literally). We know nothing about her. She was picked by McCain not because she would be an effective leader but because she makes his ticket (himself) look good. She helps him tell that nice warm, fuzzy grandpa story. If McCain were a reliable candidate, he would not pick a running mate solely based upon that person’s political appeal; he would make a decision that is equally important for the good of the country. McCain, the oldest presidential nominee in the history of presidential elections, should first and foremost assure his supporters that his second in command is thoroughly capable of running our country. How is it that in a society glutted on failsafe insurance policies that we would consider trusting our back up leadership, the one who leads our military, legistlature, economy, and public services to a no name woman? There isn't one insurance company that would underwrite such a plan for a 72 year old president. Yes, there is politicking to be done on the road to the White House. Yes, these candidates have to maneuver and stretch themselves into different arenas of discussion, different nuances to their positions and rhetoric all for the sake of getting elected. But stretching himself to Sarah Palin for the sake of winning an election is going too far.

For those who are defending Sarah Palin with the reasoning that she has more executive experience than Obama: basically you are saying that you would choose Palin to run the country over Obama. Is she is really better qualified? Of course, this is a presidential race between Obama and McCain, but with McCain at such an older age, Palin needs to be a more thoroughly proven leader. McCain has made a high stakes gamble by picking Palin. He has pushed his chips in all or nothing. The stability of our administration isn’t something we can afford to gamble with and this demonstrates not McCain’s brilliance as a politician. It demonstrates recklessness.