Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Obama and the race vote.....

Big conversation topic these days among my liberal friends is about what "those people" will do when they get into the privacy of the voting booth and no one else will know if they cannot vote for an African-American for President. I became a Republican in college because I thought my liberal Democratic friends were the least tolerant people I had ever met. They had no confidence in the voters. They thought they knew better what was good for people than the people knew for themselves and if only they and their kin were in charge, the world would be ok. So now they worry that the "hidden racist vote", not surfaced in the polls, will elect John McCain. I beg to differ. I have felt for over a year now that Barak Obama will win going away, ten points at least, 55-45 in the popular vote. People want to feel good about themselves when they leave the voting booth, and people will not want to feel as if they stood in the way of telling the world that this country was willing to elect an African-American to the Presidency. Those liberals who worry about the hidden racist vote would be better worrying about their own self-righteousness. The not-trusting-voters syndrome was at play on both the left and the right in the bailout vote fiasco yesterday. Those naysayers were unwilling either to stand up to uninformed and understandably anxious popular opinion, nor were they willing to try to educate their constituents. So they took the easy route and voted no. Safe and,I hope, sorry, they will be.

Monday, September 29, 2008

What a Day for Leadership!

So, in the roll call vote 2/3 of the Republicans and 40% of the Democrats took the no-risk route and voted their politics today. So, predictably, Obama and McCain blamed each other and each other's party. Leadership is risky; that's why there's so little of it, including from either of them. They played it as safe as they could. If either Obama or McCain saw this as a defining moment for their candidacies, or for their character, one in which we could tell if they had any political courage, if they would really put the broader interest ahead of their own narrow political interest, he could lock this election up. Memo to Barak and John: Go to DC, make phone calls, use your political capital and the possibility that you will be in the White House come January to cajole, pressure, harangue and do whatever else is necessary to pick up those handful of votes. No one knows if the bill will work. All we know is that the best minds that could be put together think it is their collective best guess. That's all it is. Just a guess. Not a solution. Just an experiment. But at the moment that we are looking to see what is inside each of them, neither John McCain nor Barak Obama has been willing take the risk this close to the Holy Grail of the Presidency, putting themselves on the line for the bill that might well would lose them votes and not prove a winning position on November 4. But that is par for the course. In the foreign policy debate last week, both steered away from anything that could blow up on them - like a nuanced view of the Middle East - and cited differences only where they were sure that those differences would accrue to their benefit. And there have been big issues all along that they have both ducked because they did not see them as wedge issues. The abandonment of New Orleans after Katrina is a national disgrace. It is a huge opportunity to show that we really do care about each other. And saving Social Security is too hot to handle. that's an opportunity to show that we really care about our kids and their kids. I have much more confidence in the American voters than either John McCain or Barak Obama seem to exhibit in their campaigns, with their distorting ads and their running away from the tough issues. How much worse does it have to get before they are willing to put it on the line?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

On Being Irrelevant.....

It is personally painful to watch the Republicans in the House of Representatives trying so hard to make themselves players in the bailout saga. When you are in the legislative minority, without the procedural power to throw sand in the gears that their counterparts in the Senate enjoy, and your Party controls the Executive Branch, you are virtually irrelevant to the business of legislating. Years ago, I spent three terms in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in that situation. Yuck. There are only two roles open to House Republican Leader John Boehner and his hardy band of 199 Republicans: stay in the good graces of the White House by being a dutiful water boy – which is what he has done most of the time – or he can be a distracting pain in the ass, like a fly buzzing around your head that doesn’t bite, making it more difficult for the Democratic legislative majority and the White House to get the work done by threatening to withhold the fig leaf of bipartisanship. So Paulson and company have thrown the fig leaf to Boehner, adding a provision to the plan which gives the Government authority to do some of the insurance financing that permits the House Republicans to say that they added a "non-socialist" possibility. As the Times reported this morning, that gives Boehner enough to go to the Members who easy targets, those who are not running for re-election or have easy races and cobbling together enough votes so that McCain can say that his work bore fruit. Pretty sad. But if helps to get an agreement to do SOMETHING, that would be a plus. It will not quiet the right. Like William O. Perkins III, those capitalists will figure out the game, find a way to make their money off of whatever is finally enacted, and still complain that the country is gonig down the tubes.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bailing Out

So, it is debate night. One thing to watch for if you are looking for leadership: does either John McCaion or Barak Obama say anything, just one thing, that sounds like there is something he believes in for which he would be willing to risk losing votes from his own supporters? Leadership is about taking risks for something you believe in. Let's watch and see. My favorite definition of leadership is "disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb". Heres Tom Friedman's version of that, published in his column last Sunday in the New York Times: "My test is simple: Which guy can tell people what they don’t want to hear — especially his own base.". Read the whole column.
So what might leadership look like on the bailout? Here's one idea: do the Democrats have the political courage to pass a plan they believe in, in cooperation with the White House, even if the House Republicans are opposed and trying to use the issue to help McCain? That appears to be the choice they have, if you believe today's latest reports from CNN.
Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Obama, McCain, Bailout and Real Leadership

Keep your fingers crossed that McCain and Obama stay as far away from the US Senate as possible as the bailout is negotiated over the next few days. Whatever their intentions, all they can do is poison the well by intruding Presidential politics into the mix. A smidgeon of leadership on their part would be resisting the temptation to use the economic troubles as a campaign boost. Stay on the hustings, and continue the pandering, please. And there's Bill Clinton, praising John McCain, continuing to do whatever he can just this side of indecency to make sure that Obama is not occupying the White House in 2012, when Hillary will rise again. Check out the NY1 piece: http://www.ny1.com/content/top_stories/Default.aspx?ArID=86269. Then again, for real leadership, think about the folks I spent the day with today: 11 principles of charter schools in New York City. They put their careers on the line by taking those anti-establishment jobs in the first place. Their political support is fragile, depending on unholy alliances between the likes of libertarian Repubicans and black Democrats, the former who like the values imbedded in charter schools and the latter who care more about the next generation of African-American than they do about teachers' unions and the national Democratic leadership. These principals understand that leadership is an experimental art. And they are trying lots of different experiments, some of which challenge their own consensus-based non-authoritarian values, in order to see what works. They have success and failure. But unlike most of the rest of us, they are out there, on the cutting edge, doing whatever they can to salvage young lives who the system has failed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Leadership on the economy? Candidates? Fahgeddaboutit...

Ok. We are in free fall. Everyone I know that "knows" anything says it is going to get worse before it gets better, but no one, no one, knows what to do now. Don't look to McCain or Obama. They are in the business of getting elected not demonstrating leadership. Getting elected is the purest form of pandering in a democratic society. Here's what it looks like: finding scapegoats, like McCain suggesting Christopher Cox should be fired or blaming Wall Street executives; delivering good news that people want to hear rather than bad news that they need to hear, like Obama telling those folks who took out mortgages they couldn't afford that they should be bailed out, too. Watch them closely in the Senate. See if either of them is willing to do anything that is good for the country that will risk even one vote that they think they need to win....