Tears for Fears

President Barack Obama wipes away a tear during his farewell address, January 10, 2017. (WH.gov)

“Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.”
– President Barack Obama, from his farewell speech, January 10, 2017

There was sobbing, actual wailing, in homes all across America, Tuesday night, including mine. President Barack Obama’s poignant and touching farewell address may have been the backdrop for this river of sorrow, but it wasn’t his poetic words, or the sunset of his challenging presidency, or even Malia wiping tears from her eyes or the president when he dried his own.

When the speech was over and the lights came up in McCormick Place, and President Obama moved slowly through the room, thanking each of the smart, dedicated, civically minded people who had given all they had to his administration and election races, the reason for the melancholy became clear. This wasn’t about what we’re losing, but what we are left with.

As someone who has had to mourn too often, I know the waves of sorrow that pound at the heart like a storm surge washing away a dune, eating and coming back to feast again and again, until all that’s left is the indestructible, the warm memories of what was lost.

This is not that kind of crying, that kind of aching absence of a lost parent. This is not solely about what is gone. It is about the terrifying uncertainty of what is to come. It is about a government being presided over by a fool who follows the advice of oligarchs, evangelicals and dominionists, each with their own Machiavellian agenda, whispering sweet nothings in his ear.

Like the Persian king of old, he is guided by vanity, ego and conquest (sexual and otherwise). It is how he values himself among men, to rise above them.

There is a period for mourning, but there comes a time when we must stop our sadness and empower each other to go on – not to “get over it,” as the more strident of our fellow Americans ridiculously insist , but – to  face the inevitable future, as challenging as it may be for our country and values.

“We have everything we need to meet those challenges,” the president said. “After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on Earth. Our youth, our drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours. But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people.”

The challenge is whether to be numb with fear in the face of a possible religious and/or cultural dystopia, or to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against those who would make it so. I choose the latter, because it is our right and, as I see it, our duty to make the world, our world, our neighbors’ world, better.

The promise of our democracy can be fulfilled, Obama went on, “only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”

“Our founders,” he said, “knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity — the idea that for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”

We are citizens, after all, and not subjects. This country and its leaders belong to us.

“It falls to each of us,” the president admonished, “to be those those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen.”

The sadness must and will fade with time, so damn the past! Every fight we engage in now is for our future.

We will be loud, but civil. We will fight for our neighbors when their rights as Americans are trampled. We will, as President Obama said, be vigilant.

And because I know you’ve been humming this ever since you read the header, a bit of Everybody Wants to Rule the World:
“It’s my own desire, it’s my own remorse.
Help me to decide.
Help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world.”



Sandy’s reality provides opportunity for Obama ‘One America’ redux

“For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we are all connected as one people…

“It is that fundamental belief – it is that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper – that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family: ‘E pluribus unum,’ out of many, one…

“…there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.”
– Barack Obama’s keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention

Even in the face of an election season full of the most rancorous and extreme partisanship, there is a takeaway from the politics of the Hurricane Sandy tragedy, one that reprises President Obama’s seminal assertion that, eight years on, there is still only one America. With the recent praises of FEMA and the president’s leadership coming from the unequivocal Chris Christie, New Jersey’s no-nonsense Republican governor, it appears that the storm that devastated that state and region has done what no hard running politician could do – show that level headed and reasonable responses to responsibilities destroy divisiveness in favor of cooperation.

“The cooperation has been great with FEMA, here on the ground,” Christie told CBS, the morning after the storm hit, “and the cooperation from the president of the United States has been outstanding. He deserves great credit.”

President Obama took note of the spirit that is allowing state and local authorities to work together, at a campaign stop in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Thursday morning. “There are no Democrats or Republicans during a storm, there are just fellow Americans,” he told the Badger State crowd, “leaders of different parties working to fix what’s broken; neighbors helping neighbors cope with tragedy; communities rallying to rebuild; a spirit that says, in the end, we’re all in this together – that we rise or fall as one nation, as one people.”

There is no more room, in the face of a too real American tragedy, for drawing disingenuous political caricatures and mudslinging; the white caps of political turmoil get in the way of the productivity necessary to rebuild the northeast coast. Both the governor and the president realize that.

Voters seem to realize it, too. With less than a week to go until the election, a Washington Post/ABC News tracking poll, released Wednesday, found that 78% of likely voters had a positive view of Obama’s handling of the crisis, including two out of three Romney backers. More than seven-in-ten voters felt the same about the federal response to the hurricane, overall.

Obama and Christie visit NJ Storm Victims
President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talk with local residents at the Brigantine Beach Community Center in Brigantine, N.J., Oct. 31, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

And that was before the president toured the New Jersey coastline with Gov. Christie by his side, meeting and talking with the shocked and frightened residents of the area. “I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and for the people of our state,” the governor said at a joint press conference during the tour, doubling down on his acknowledgement of the president’s efforts.

President Obama understands that cooperation is a winning formula, not just for his reelection, but for the spirit which has built this country since World War Two. “I’ve shown my willingness to work with anybody, of any party, to move this country forward,” he said in Green Bay, “and if you want to break the gridlock in Congress, you’ll vote for leaders – whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or independents – who feel the same way.”

The president, then, has taken this opportunity to remind us of who he is, and who we are. At this late date in the process, he is exhorting our divided nation to make the true moral choice, and vote for government cooperation among the many over appropriation by the few, for partnership over partisanship, for reasoned dialogue in the public interest over filibuster and obstructionism for the monied interests.

For your country’s sake, he is saying, it is up to you to assert the strength of unity your vote can provide, regardless of your party. By all means, vote for whomever you prefer, but vote for those who see this as a government that works best when we all work together.


Commander in Chief vs Commander of Shift

“You said that, first, we should not have a timeline in Afghanistan. Then you said we should. Now you say maybe or it depends, which means not only were you wrong, but you were also confusing in sending mixed messages both to our troops and our allies.”
– President Barack Obama, talking to Gov. Mitt Romney at the third presidential debate, October 22, 2012

We have a Commander in Chief, and his name is Barack Obama. He successfully made the point that if Mitt Romney carries his knack for shuffling his positions into the realm of foreign policy, it will be a disaster for the United States’ standing in the world. Unless, of course, like a third world despot, Romney is telling us one thing and telling the rest of the world something entirely different.

On MSNBC, former 2008 McCain campaign adviser Steve Schmidt appeared relieved and happy as he declared, “Mitt Romney came across as reasonable, thoughtful, serious, presidential.” When challenged on the position changes, Mitt’s new, heavy lean to the center, Schmidt was unapologetic. Calling the move “a reset to a more traditional Republican style of foreign policy,” the GOP operative added that President Obama, “was unable to conceal his exasperation with Mitt Romney as he was pondering his previous positions,” and how those had changed.

When host Rachel Maddow described how Romney had changed his opinion of the date of the Afghanistan withdrawal, Schmidt didn’t see the position shift as a negative for the Republican nominee. “The Romney campaign has made a political calculation, and I suspect that they are right, there will not be a political price to pay for his flexibility on these issue changes,” he admitted.

Toy composite
Elephant Memories

“Flexibility” is a good euphemism, full of understatement and with an implication of reasonableness, but Romney is not so much Gumby as he is a man with a Hula Hoop, positions spinning around his waist, circling back around when convenient, shifting his narrow hips here and there, in such a way that his entire campaign won’t come crashing to his feet.

In doing so, of course, he has sent his neo-con base twirling dizzily on a Sit ‘n’ Spin. If you throw in an Etch-a-Sketch, and a Battleship game, he could occupy an entire shelf in a kid’s bedroom from the early 1960s.

Speaking of the early 1960s, they called, and told Mitt they want their stiffness back.


What’s so foreign about foreign policy?

In a time when so much of U.S. foreign policy involves our global military footprint, ongoing engagements, waning engagements and threatening engagements, it’s easy to think that war is the sole function of that governing platform. Americans are conditioned that way; like a computer that insists on entering a discarded wi-fi password at your favorite cafe, many young voters cannot remember a time when it was not how we operated in war that ran our international relations, but how we manage our peace.

God, and the voters, willing, that period will return soon.

Certainly, there will be talk of trade with China and cross-border immigration as well. It’s a way to steer the conversation back to the economy, which is what most Americans care about. But mostly, in Monday night’s debate, we will likely hear about the end of the war in Iraq, the winding down of the war in Afghanistan, the drone attacks in Pakistan, killing Osama, pursuing al Qaeda, responsibility in Libya and the onus of oversight in the Arab Spring countries, and Israel and Iran. The entirety of those discussions is:

  1. Are we involved?
  2. Should we get involved?
  3. If we are involved, are we involved enough or too little? (Or too much – nah, that is not an admission we expect to hear.)
  4. If we are not involved, not if, but when should we get involved? (Iran, Syria and -gulp- Lebanon…Party like it’s 1982.)
  5. How much does Israel trust/distrust/appreciate/deprecate the current/future relationship with the United States, and who will do more to continue our relationship with our “most valued ally” in the region?

Part of President Obama’s closing statement has to be how much his administration’s leadership (and he must use the word “leadership”) has improved America’s standing in the world, with more rational approaches to diplomacy, in searching for active partners for non-violent approaches to global issues, and creating willing partners with whom to pursue peace (and new enemies, through drone attacks, but he won’t admit to that).

He has to show that given the hawkish, isolationist, Bush era foreign policy advisers that the Romney campaign employs, it is likely a Republican administration would return us to the “cowboy diplomacy” that got us into this Middle East mess in the first place. Like the Great Recession, he should explain, it is going to take us a while to extricate ourselves, and a President Romney, who still sees Russia as our number one threat, would dig us in deeper.

Romney will make it about the economy – oil drilling, trade, debt to China, jobs – and expect the word “apologist” to come up once or twice, in the context “American exceptionalism,” in a statement like, “America should not go around the world apologizing for our actions, which are always right.” It’s not that we never make foreign policy blunders, but he will  pursue an agenda of our might making us right.

In the early days of my time at CNN, back in the 1980s, Ted Turner made a conscious decision to change the name of CNN’s foreign desk to the international desk. That tradition continued with the establishment of CNN International, a few years later. It symbolizes that just because the news takes place on soil that is outside the United States, it’s not foreign to the people who live in that country. It is an acknowledgement that we, as Americans, are part of an entire planet of people, made up of many nationalities and ethnicities. That move has been validated by the the success of CNN International, abroad, because even though CNN is struggling with 24 hour news competition at home, it is still the most important news station to most of the rest of the world.

Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at the Yalta Conference, February 1945
Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at the Yalta Conference, February 1945. U.S. Army photograph.

The lesson? Our success doesn’t come from being “exceptional;” it comes from acknowledging that we are a leader of the team of nations –  a leader, but still only a member.  We succeeded in the two world wars, not because we thought of ourselves as the cavalry, riding to the rescue, but because we saw ourselves as standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other nations against a global menace. Sure, we showed military, scientific and industrial helmsmanship, but only Yankee braggadocio can turn a rise to leadership into being the country that knows what’s best for the rest of the world.

That imperialist attitude will get us nowhere, but it still could get Mitt Romney elected, which is the same thing.


Romney’s Core

English: CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Commi...
Mitt Romney, as CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Given all the different positions that Mitt Romney has taken throughout his political career, it may be easy to label him a liar and a flip-flopper. But if voters are looking for the “real” Mitt, they will have a hard time trying to peer through the gauzy obfuscations to the man at the core. Mitt plays politics in a carnival funhouse, and one cannot tell with certainty if what they are looking at is the authentic Romney or one of a series of distorted reflections, each intended to please a particular block of voters.

Somewhere in the center of the rotating Romney record that spins on the public life turntable, needle dropping alternately (that’s like an iPod shuffle, to you Millennials) on the Senate candidate cut, the Bain cut, Massachusetts governor cut, the 2008 presidential candidate cut, the 2012 GOP primary cut and the 2012 official Republican nominee cut, is a tall, silver spindle that is unmoving and unmovable. It is the axis around which everything that is Mitt Romney swirls.

The first debate, in Denver last week, was the ultimate clue that the Romney campaign is both more and less than it seems. To attribute his polymorphic politics to mere pandering, is to imply a schedule of nefarious plotting by the candidate and his campaign. That is not only antithetical to the moral man he claims to be, it ignores the possibility of a simpler explanation, an Occam’s Razor, if you will. It is not only possible, but likely, that he sees no disconnection between his stoic center and the political characters he has trotted out on the stage throughout his life.

Romney considers himself a Mr. Fix-it. The PBS program Frontline, in an exploration of both Gov. Romney’s and President Obama’s upbringings and backgrounds that aired Tuesday evening, described the plight of Miles Romney, Mitt’s grandfather, and its contribution to the Romney family psyche. The program implies that, as he fled persecution of his faith’s polygamy, from Mexico to California to Utah, the Romney patriarch and father of thirty children – including Mitt’s father, George – made fortunes, lost fortunes, moved and made new fortunes.

That need to step back, start over and succeed is what drives Mitt, too. According to Frontline, he was enormously successful at rebuilding the Mormon mission in France, after the tragic death of the wife of the misson’s leader in a car accident in which Romney was driving. That brought “that which was naturally in him to then come to the fore,” Dane McBride, who served with Romney in France, told them.

And when it came to his role in shepherding the embattled Salt Lake City Olympics, in 2002, Ken Bullock, who was on the Salt Lake Olympic Committee, told Frontline, “He tried very hard to build an image of himself as a savior, the great white hope.”

In one article previewing the program, PBS writes, “As he developed in his career at Bain and as governor of Massachusetts, he would become known for his data-driven, case-study method towards approaching problems.”

Indeed, his business success may come from an over-willingness not to assert what his wife, Ann, guarantees us is his own supposedly generous, warm and fuzzy nature, allowing himself to be “buffeted by all this advice,” according to someone described only as a “family friend,” in an article by Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei, discussing the Romney campaign’s shift to a more personable Mitt – “a ‘let Mitt be Mitt’ approach they believed more accurately reflected the looser, generous and more approachable man.”

The family friend goes on to tell the Politico reporters, “Romney takes everybody seriously. He thinks, ‘Well, gee, I’m talking to businessman X or C or Y. They’re really smart. That’s something I need to factor into my thinking.'”

Mitt Romney at one of his presidential campaig...
Mitt Romney at one of his presidential campaign rallies, with son, Tagg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If this is letting Mitt be Mitt, he is less panderer and more chameleon, by a nature he cannot control.

The supposed stiffness with which he was saddled since securing the nomination, according to the article, was meant to showcase what he would do as president. It was the campaign’s personality, there, they say – not Mitt’s. “You have to do it when you’re comfortable with it,”  an unnamed campaign official told Allen and Vandehei. “Otherwise, it would seem forced.”

Yet the castigation of Obama’s policies is precisely what Mitt is “comfortable with,” if you believe SLOC’s Bullock, who told Frontline, “He was very good at characterizing and castigating people and putting himself on a pedestal.”

His family obviously stands behind him in that. Witness the Mr. Fix-it-in-waiting, Tagg Romney, who, according to Politico’s “family friend” source, “will basically call people out when they have something stupid to say. Because he’s the son, he’s in a different position to be able to really question people’s advice and question the decisions, but — more importantly — to drive them to make decisions.”

And another record drops on the Romney spindle. Turn. Turn. Turn.


Can’t hang your hat on polls when winds of crisis blow

In politics, you can’t hang your hat on a poll, because the winds of global events will easily send it tumbling away. In the battle for leading a nation, there are only two things you can plant at the top of a poll: a flag or your ass, and if one isn’t up there, the other soon will be.

It’s safe to say that following the revelation of the recent video with Mitt Romney speaking “off the cuff,” as he called it, at a high end fundraiser in Boca Raton, this spring, his keester is high in the breeze, hoisted with his own Mitt-tard, as it were. He just cannot get away from who he is. As Bob Marley sang, “You’re running, and you’re running, and you’re running away, but you can’t run away from yourself.”

But there are still seven weeks until the decision is final, and anything can happen.

What the Romney video, released through Mother Jones, reveals, though, is a confirmation of President Bill Clinton’s assertion, during his speech at the Democratic Convention, two weeks ago, that “We think ‘we’re all in this together’ is a better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own.'”

With international events potentially shaking the ground under the administration’s feet, it’s time for the president to make a statement about what it is we are all in together, especially in East Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. This is something that should come from three different press rooms, in a coordinated communication. Secretary Leon Panetta, at the Pentagon, Secretary Hillary Clinton, at the State Department, and President Barack Obama at the White House.

For Sec. Panetta, it’s not enough to explain the waves insider attacks, also known as “blue on green”  violence, in Afghanistan, by calling the killings “a last gasp effort” by the Taliban, “to try to create chaos, because they’ve been unable to regain any of the territory that they have lost.”

For Sec. Clinton, it’s not enough to show sympathy for the victims of the ongoing violence against our diplomatic posts, and assert the administration’s obvious deniability of the “awful internet video that we had nothing to do with.”

For President Obama, it’s not enough that if the election were held today, he would probably win, because people think he is better for us than the twisted, insensitive, and out-of-touch social Darwinism of Mitt Romney.  The president must approach these events in the way in which it is already being cast by his enemies – a crisis, and one he must demonstrate he is managing. It is not only a show of leadership; it is also wise, politically. For the people of the United States, it will at least be reassuring to see him in charge, as commander-in-chief, and for the undecided voter who is leaning toward Romney, it could rescue that vote.

It’s as if the administration, hiding behind a curtain with a huge presidential seal on it, is working together keeping a dozen or so different colored plastic balls in the air, just high enough above the curtain rod for the People to see things are being done. Then, all of a sudden, a wind gust comes and blows a couple of the balls into a mud puddle, thousands of miles away from the curtain. The people and the press, noticing the missing elements, are going to want access, to see what’s happened behind the curtain. As they creep up to pull it back, they fully expect to reveal Obama using every finger, toe and elbow to keep the juggling act running smoothly, with maybe a feed or two from Vice President Biden.

Instead, what they’ll find back there, behind the screen, is the way the executive branch of government actually works – a handful of cabinet members, assistants and others keeping the remaining balls in the air. Sec. Clinton is over at a sink washing off one of the mud-covered balls, and Sec. Panetta is huffing and puffing after hurriedly grabbing a dirty orb from one of his Afghan theater generals.

The administration continues to assert that, regarding the tragedy in Libya, “there’s an active investigation underway into what happened and why, and what the motivations were,” as White House press secretary, Jay Carney, told reporters in Tuesday’s briefing.

Carney re-iterated Obama’s remarks in the Rose Garden, last Wednesday, when, with Hillary Clinton by his side, he said, “We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.  And make no mistake, justice will be done.”

In retrospect, though the president’s remarks were spot on, the Rose Garden setting may have been too casual, on its own, to meet the gravitas of the events that precipitated it. A better play, a more assertive play, may have been to allow Secretary Clinton’s remarks, earlier that day, to carry the message, until he could appear in the Oval Office, in prime time, to a national audience, and given the same message he actually gave that afternoon, adding that he was sending extra carriers to the region to monitor the situation. He could have followed that the next day with a press conference, and then waited until after the bodies were back from Libya to return to the campaign trail.

Granted, they have been doing this a lot longer than a humble blogger, and at a lot higher level, but it’s not like the president has a lot of leeway in the polls with which to play, and Romney made it clear, in the recently released video, that he would exploit a foreign crisis, if he had an Iran hostage kind of scenario, a la Ronald Reagan against Jimmy Carter in 1980. “If something of that nature presents itself,” he told the well heeled donors, “I will work to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Maybe that explains his lip biting grimace, last Wednesday night, while taking questions on his statement about the administration being weak and “apologetic” on foreign policy. As Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan remarked, “He looked like Richard Nixon.” Now that was someone with a pole up his ass.


A verdict to be rendered, votes to be gathered, victory to be won

There is a two part movie analogy to what took place at the Democratic National Convention, in Charlotte, North Carolina, last week. One is the the trial drama, where the parade of witnesses for the defense – and the incumbent is always on the defense – testify to the jury of voters, and validate allegiance to the candidate and his policies. At the end of the trial, all the voters are charged to deliberate and render a verdict: re-elect or not to re-elect.

The other kind of movie scene the convention spectacle brings to mind, is the Braveheart moment, where the general rides up and down the line, motivating the troops for battle, letting them know how important their sacrifice of time and their commitment to the outcome are the keys to victory, for the candidate, and everything for which the president stands. The faithful then charge ahead, into the phalanx of skeptics and naysayers, and their barbed memes, relying on the party lieutenants to keep them from being outflanked.

Clearly, Bill Clinton was the star witness in the trial portion, after San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro gave the preliminary argument, laying out the case for Obama’s re-election. Michelle Obama was, of course, the chief character witness. Sandra Fluke and Cecile Richards testified to the president’s commitment to women’s health issues. Elizabeth Warren testified to the progress of finance reform.

Even non-political celebrities offered testimony. There was Stacey Lihn, the mother of a young girl who was born with a congenital heart defect, who had her medical insurance cap lifted because of the Affordable Care Act, know as Obamacare. There was Benita Veliz, the young Latina who was brought here from Mexico illegally, as a child, by her parents, and was put into deportation proceedings after she was pulled over for running a stop sign. She was the first undocumented person to ever address a national political convention. Veliz is now an advocate for the DREAM Act, and, she told reporters the next day, is “grateful for what the administration has done, to allow DREAMers to have deferred action.” And then there was the parade of private citizens, rebuttal witnesses against Gov. Romney and his tenure at Bain Capital, and defending President Obama’s support of businesses, large and small.

Then, the lieutenants mounted their horses and riled up the convention with their closing arguments. Former Michigan governor, Jennifer Granholm, whipped the crowd into a frenzy with the line, “In Romney’s world, the cars get the elevator; the workers get the shaft,” and led them in a nonstop ovation, as she rendered a litany of swing states and the number of jobs saved there because of the domestic auto industry bailout.

Sen. John Kerry, the party’s 2004 nominee, showed uncharacteristic zeal as he exposed the foreign policy weaknesses of the opposing battle line: “It isn’t fair to say Mitt Romney doesn’t have a position on Afghanistan. He has every position;” and, “For Mitt Romney, an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas. It wasn’t a goodwill mission—it was a blooper reel;” and, “Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from Alaska; Mitt Romney talks like he’s only seen Russia by watching Rocky IV.”

Then, Vice President Joe Biden mounted the stage. “Conviction,” he said, bringing the drumbeat up, slow and steady. “Resolve,” he said, unfurling the Obama banner, trotting out reminders for the partisans, of just what it is they were fighting for.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said, reaching into the crowd, “I’m here to tell you, bravery resides in the heart of Barack Obama.  And time and time again, I witnessed him summon it. This man has courage in his soul, compassion in his heart, and steel in his spine. And because of all the actions he took, because of the calls he made–and because of the grit and determination of American workers–and the unparalled bravery of our special forces—we can now proudly say—Osama Bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive!” The Democrats shook their signs and cheered wildly for Joe, for he had been one of them, risen through the ranks, to serve and honor a nation, under the leadership of President Barack Obama.

Then, out Obama came, to cheers and adulation. “I’m the President,” he declared, and they roared. He reminded them of their part in the battle:

“America is not about what can be done for us.  It’s about what can be done by us, together,” he said. “See, the election four years ago wasn’t about me.  It was about you.  My fellow citizens – you were the change…

“If you turn away now – if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn’t possible…well, change will not happen.  If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void…

“Only you can make sure that doesn’t happen.  Only you have the power to move us forward.”

The crowd followed his words, but did they get that he was talking about them? “I’m hopeful because of you,” he told them, and they cheered again. Finally, he charged them to enter the breech, the wide expanse that separates our base politics, if not our political parties, and bring in the votes. “America,” he said, “I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now… but we travel it together.  We don’t turn back.  We leave no one behind.  We pull each other up.  We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.” And then he released the cheering throng into the electorate, to change minds, sway votes and win victory.

They charged together, the Republicans from the right, the Democrats from the left, fists waving, signs swaying, shouts of “Four more years,” and screams of, “Romney for America.” Over the next two months, they will clash, somewhere over the middle, where they’ll all stop, and start chatting vociferously over cocktails, while James Carville and Mary Matalin, highballs in hand, look around, wondering, “Who invited all these people?”


Cooperation and the Clinton effect

Clinton at DNC 2012-mandatory courtesy Johannes Worsøe Berg
President Bill Clinton thrills delegates at the Democratic Convention, in his speech nominating President Obama to a second term. (Photo Courtesy: Johannes Worsøe Berg)

Why is it that a Bill Clinton speech can soften Republican hearts when President Obama hardens them so much?

Alex Castellanos, a Republican operator who offers his side’s commentary for CNN’s political coverage, told viewers, after watching President Clinton’s nomination speech, Wednesday night, “…tonight when everybody leaves, lock the doors. You don’t have to come back tomorrow. This convention is done. This will be the moment that probably reelected Barack Obama.”

And the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign adviser, Steve Schmidt, described Clinton’s speech as “extraordinary” and a “virtuoso political performance.” Speaking on a panel, with MSNBC‘s Rachel Maddow, Schmidt lamented, “I wish to God, as a Republican, we had someone on our side who had the ability to do that. We don’t.”

Schmidt pointed to the “political genius” of Clinton’s attacks on the Republicans, “delivered,” he said, “with an absence of malice or anger, with a smile on his face, logic, aimed squarely at the middle of the electorate.”

President Obama also recognized the 42nd president’s skill, during a conference call with supporters who were shut out of Thursday’s acceptance speech, when it was moved from a 65,000 seat stadium to the 20,000 seat Time Warner Cable Arena. “President Clinton,” he told them, “broke down the issues as effectively as anybody could.”

The electorate succeeds when they pick a president who is smart and easy to understand, and a little wit and charm doesn’t hurt. Over the past fifty years, that simple list of human qualities can arguably be applied to four leaders of our republic – three Democrats and one Republican: Kennedy, Clinton, Obama, and Reagan, respectively.

Johnson’s “charm” was kind of his an anti-charm, and Carter, while he shared all those qualities, had his own way of doing things that many in Washington, D.C., fought against, and no matter how many times Americans sought to rally around him, he never completely sold the public on his agenda, and then he had an international crisis to deal with, and then he had to go against Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reagan made many feel warm and fuzzy, albeit more than a little distrustful, if you paid attention to liberal causes, coming from his cooperation with House Un-American Activities Committee, in the 1950s, and his stern hand in fighting dissent in California, in the 1960s. Regardless of whether or not that bothers you, at least he and Congress were not only confident they could work together, they actually did work together. There was no other way to get the job done.

So it’s not just that they demonstrate a likable, smart-easy-charming-witty way with the electorate. They have to be able to use some of that charm when dealing with Congress, as well. “Through my foundation,” Clinton explained to the convention crowd, “I’m working all the time, with Democrats, Republicans, and independents; sometimes, I couldn’t tell you for the life [of me] who I’ve been working with, because we focus on solving problems and seizing opportunities, and not fighting all the time.”

And make no mistake – he wasn’t talking about the president not cooperating; he was talking about Congress’ organized bulwark against Obama, that recently came to light, and the Republicans’ stubborn refusal to give an inch for fear of making Obama look successful. “What works in the real world is cooperation,” he reminded voters watching the speech.

“One of the main reasons we need to reelect President Obama, is that he is still committed to constructive cooperation,” he said.

The question is, is that enough? “President Clinton was incredible,” said Brad Woodhouse, the Democratic Party Communications director. But, he says, they do not necessarily expect a great tidal movement to their side.”We don’t expect a bounce out of this convention. This race has not moved all summer,” referring to polls that show the president with a lead in electoral votes, but still very close in polling, particularly in battleground states.

Even though he was ambivalent about the effect of the convention on undecided voters, Woodhouse was certain of one thing. “I would say, President Clinton’s speech, in favor of President Obama was better than the one George Bush gave in Tampa for Mitt Romney. Oh,” he said, in feigned surprise, “that’s right. He wasn’t there.”


Reproductive rights not Sandra Fluke’s only passion


Sandra Fluke’s accidental celebrity, this year, may have come about over a Capitol Hill clash on women’s reproductive rights, and an unworthy epithet hurled at her from a right wing radio blowhard, but when she takes the podium, Wednesday night, at the Democratic National Convention, in Charlotte, she is going to reveal to the country that her interests in women’s issues goes, she says, “beyond the contraception conversation.”

In a quick briefing with bloggers attending the convention, Wednesday afternoon, Fluke, who has been campaigning for President Obama’s reelection, insisted that she also has conversations with “outraged” voters about Romney and Congressional Republicans reluctance to embrace a coherent policy on the issue of fair pay. “I was actually looking for a plan from someone running for president,” she said, somewhat sardonically.

“He doesn’t have any plan for how we’re going to close that pay gap, how we’re going to put that $400,000 back in each woman’s career, on average.”

“Mitt Romney won’t even say if he supports it,” Lilly Ledbetter, who lost a suit for pay discrimination because the law said she waited too long, and who’s name is on the first bill President Obama signed, to rectify the lawsuit issue, reminded those gathered in Charlotte, Tuesday. “President Obama does.”

To be sure, when Ms. Fluke talks, Wednesday night, she will cover the issue that earned her a feature role, this political season. “For me, this election is about information,” she said in the briefing, “If you understand the positions that Mr. Romney has taken, if you know that he vetoed a bill [as governor] that would give victims of rape access to emergency contraception in the ER, if you know [both Ryan’s and Romney’s] records, it’s a very clear choice.”

Besides the causes that she says she is “really passionate about,” what will probably come through the most will be Fluke’s gratitude for what her new found fame affords. “It’s really empowering,” she said,” and I’m just really thankful to have the opportunity to work for the policies that I care about, and to champion the cause of women that I care about, and to support this president.”

“Every one of us has the responsibility to do everything we can for the things we believe in.”


Democrat platform – familiar themes and contrasts, plus the wonky bits

Stephanie Stewart, a delegate from Democrats Abroad, holds a booklet containing the 2012 Democratic Party Platform.
(Photo by PBG)

As a policy document, one could get lost in the weeds about NATO, North Korea and loose nukes, but the wonky bits in the 2012 Democratic National Platform don’t start until halfway through the forty page document. The first twenty pages of the platform, which the party will approve at their convention in Charlotte, Tuesday night, is all about one thing – growing the middle class.

On the very first page, they write:

“This has to be our North Star – an economy that’s built not from the top down, but from a growing middle class, and that provides ladders of opportunity for those working hard to join the middle class.
“This is not another trivial political argument. It’s the defining issue of our time and at the core of the American Dream.”

“Moving America Forward,” the platform’s title, is not just about their ideas for improving the economy and addressing unemployment. It also is another way to distinguish them from the Republicans, who the Obama campaign is painting as wanting to return to the trickle down economics of the past. “They still believe the best way to grow the economy is from the top down,” they write, “the same approach that benefited the wealthy few but crashed the economy and crushed the middle class.”

Compare that to the stump speech President Obama gave in Norfolk, Virginia, Tuesday, where he warned against embracing the GOP’s economic policies, saying, “[T]hey know you saw that happened when we tried it.  You’ve lived through it, and you know we can’t afford to repeat it.”

While it doesn’t exactly scream Vice President Biden’s line, “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” it does spend more than two pages talking about “President Obama and the Democrats boldly rescu[ing] America’s auto industry,” and it points out that “Republicans… opposed saving the auto industry.”

And it makes sure voters know, “As a consequence of the President’s decisions and the brave work of our military and intelligence professionals, bin Laden can no longer threaten the United States and al-Qaeda’s senior leadership has been devastated,” while making certain you remember that the Republican “Bush administration shifted its focus to Iraq, [allowing] Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda [to establish] safe havens across the border from Afghanistan, in Pakistan.”

The platform contrasts Romney, specifically, as being as out of touch as saddle shoes. “Republicans like Mitt Romney want to turn back the clock on the progress we’ve made, telling people whom they can marry, restricting women’s access to birth control coverage, and going back to the same economic policies that benefited the wealthy but crashed our economy.”

In fact, the GOP nominee’s name is mentioned twenty-two times in the Democratic Party document, included in lines like:

– “Mitt Romney and the Republicans have opposed commonsense [immigration] reforms and pandered to the far right.”
– “Mitt Romney would raise taxes on low- and middle-income Americans to fund his tax breaks weighted toward the wealthiest.”
– “Mitt Romney, would have preferred to leave tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq in an open-ended commitment.”
– “Mitt Romney has been both for and against our timeline to end the war in Afghanistan.”
– “The Cold War mentality represented by Mitt Romney’s identification of Russia as ‘our number one geopolitical foe.’”

Reading the platform, the Democrats seem to be saying, will lead you to one conclusion: even if you’re not better off than you were four yeas ago, the Republicans aren’t going to help you.