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America Will Be Just Fine

The late Tim Russell of NBC’s Meet The Press would have it best, “What a country!”  The United States of America, the most powerful nation on earth, the world’s most enviable democracy and strongest economy, has just elected her first Black president, Senator Barack Obama.  The historicity of this event cannot be underestimated, as it happened at a time when the country is confronted with a crisis of such magnitude that the tenets of its economic system are threatened; that the ever optimistic nature of the American psyche is challenged.  It happened at a time when the entire world yearns once more for our leadership.
Obama 2008 victory
Precisely at this precarious time, America tapped her immense reservoir of talent, anointed the freshman senator from Illinois and handed him the tiller with the solemn mission of charting a new itinerary for her still young republic, restoring order into the economy, and taking her citizenry to the confines of human possibilities in search of a better tomorrow.  In electing Barack Obama 44th President of the Republic, America has proven again that she has the fortitude to experiment with novel approaches; that she has the sagacity to pick leaders with the temperament and wisdom to guide her out of her moments of darkness onto the luminous paths of decency, progress and opportunity for all.  True to her vaunted pragmatism, America reverted to her endeared tradition of constant reengineering, perpetual renewal, and unceasing creativity.  She understood that such challenging times called for a leader endowed with intellectual depth and curiosity, an inquisitive mind and enterprising spirit to take on the frontiers that loom on her socio-economic horizon and transform them into windows of opportunity.

America is no stranger to challenges of this sort.  Dared by History many a time, she has yet to miss a “rendezvous with destiny”.  At a time when the specter of secession and schism threatened to rip apart the fabric of the nation, she entrusted the fate of her young democracy to Abraham Lincoln. She turned to this illustrious son of Illinois to uproot the seeds of division, unify the nation behind a new sense of purpose, rally the progressive forces around an economic vision  that foretold the benefits of industrialization and did away with the decrepit and retrograde structures of a southern economy that reposed on slavery along with the abject conditions associated with it, set the country on a moral course consistent with the preamble of the Declaration of Independence affirmation that “all men are created equal.”  Lincoln set America on a course that modernized her economy and cleared a pathway to world economic dominance.

Likewise, when the Great Depression of 1929 threatened to sap the foundations of her welfare, sent shock waves throughout her economic structures, came close to unraveling her social gains, America turned to Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Immense was the task at hand, and daunting the challenges.  Reaching into her reservoir, she picked this son of privilege and laid in his hand her destiny.  Roosevelt understood that bold decisions had to be made to reverse the trends of steady disintegration that marred the socio-economic tissues of the nation.  He veered from the laisser-faire economic tradition that ruled the marketplace; a tradition that sprang from the economic theory championed by Adam Smith, the eighteenth century Scottish economist, who  advocated unfettered freedom to the market forces, the so-called “invisible hand” supposedly more apt at achieving optimal allocation of resources and at correcting the cyclical inequities that might result from the interactions of the economic forces—a dogma in large part responsible for the economic cataclysm of 1929.  Inspired by the economic theory of John Maynard Keynes, the twentieth century British economist, Roosevelt revolutionized the narrative about the government’s role in the economy, carved a place for it to stimulate demand, invest in public works and infrastructure projects, and hold in check the market forces by instituting appropriate regulatory bodies.  This new economic conceptual framework and attitudinal change brought in an era of prosperity that lasted decades, and new institutional structures upon which we continue to depend, namely Social Security, among others.

A generation or so later, in the midst of the Cold War, when World War II hero Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency reached its term, America defied conventional wisdom and picked a young senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy over the more experienced Richard Nixon, then Eisenhower’s vice-president.  America turned down the comfort of safe choice in Nixon and embraced the challenges of the new enterprising spirit Kennedy’s youthful exuberance and reassuring demeanor projected.  For, these were not ordinary times when one would be content to just play it safe.  On the domestic scene, the economy was showing anemic symptoms that called for governmental action.  On the international scene, there was the increasing East-West polarization, fueled by the cold war and its corollary—heavy militarization leading to a vertiginous arms race with the Soviet Union and a threat to world peace.  This was further complicated by turbulence in the developing world, heightened by the rise of nationalistic or non-aligned movements which basically tilted toward the socialist model, thanks to the Kremlin’s aggressive agenda toward the less developed countries.   Through a mix of assertive diplomacy and prudent militarism, Kennedy confronted head-on the Kremlin’s bellicose attitude in Europe, particularly in Berlin, and reasserted the American influence in the Third World, through massive aid and the creation of the Peace Corps, among others.  Widely popular at home and abroad, Kennedy presided over an era of prosperity and took the American people on a scientific and technological journey, which would eventually lead to extraterrestrial frontiers and set America’s preeminence in space.

Yet again, America is at a cross-roads, where she is invited to another rendezvous with destiny.  The fundamental question is whether the much-traveled, safe paths of status quo, rehashed and obsolete ways and clichés of yesteryears will fend off the barrage of challenges facing her from all fronts.  Our resources are spreading thin.  Our economic supremacy is being eroded, our trade deficit with the fast-growing emerging economies is steadily increasing and the latter are quickly becoming our creditors on world financial markets.  At home, the economic malaise that had been brewing for a decade finally bubbled up and is fast becoming a Tsunami wreaking havoc all across the landscape, equal in proportion to the 1929 Depression–from a weak dollar, to record job loss, record budget deficits, record home foreclosures, record stock market losses, record gas prices, record healthcare costs.   Much at fault for such dire circumstances was the resurgence of Adam Smith’s laisser-faire, coupled with Milton Friedman’s all-out assault on big government, prompting a shift from the Keynesian model to supply-side economics, the tenets of which reposed on incentivizing businesses and the rich through tax cuts (the Republicans’ favorite hymn), hoping the ensuing investments would “trickle-down” to benefit all.  According to Friedman, the Nobel Prize winner in economics and professor at the University of Chicago, the markets reigned supreme and must be allowed to self-regulate; the government’s role in the economy should be minimal.  This revisited approach, under Ronald Reagan and the Bushes, led to a wave of privatizations, deregulations, outsourcing of government functions, bolstered a mode of thinking that made it a heresy to even think of reigning in the market forces, no matter how wild they were running.  Politically, a new breed of politicians,  spearheaded by Lee Atwater, specialized in demonizing opponents, negative campaigning where issues took a back seat to frivolous personality differences and mudslinging, records were distorted and vilified; where the word “liberal” became anathema or a plague to run from; where the political scene became deviously polarized between liberalism and conservatism, whose adherents successfully managed to cow the other side and associate them with all the ills of the country from market woes to family values.  Militarily, we are waging two wars, one of which is a quagmire and siphoning funds out of treasury at the rate of twelve billion dollars a month.  Our troops are being spread thin, through multiple redeployments, while there is no end in sight to stop the hemorrhage.   The single-mindedness of our security concerns leaves us only tactical choices with no viable overall strategy to respond to tomorrow’s sophisticated threats.  Diplomatically, we became an America whose image has been tarnished by reckless, senseless self-righteousness and unilateralism with a flagrant disregard for our international partners, breaching with our most sacred principles, engaging in behaviors worthy of petty dictators.   We are an America who abdicated our moral principles and trampled the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. Socially, the divide has never been wider.  The top 5% of the population has never been better off, with CEO’s making as much as a thousand times the average salary of their factory floor.  Thanks to layoffs, attrition, outsourcing, process reengineering, product downsizing, corporate CEO’s managed to increase profits to record levels, and receive incentive compensation in many instances superior to their base salary.  And, all the while, some of us make illegal immigrants into scapegoats for the tight job market, oblivious that tax incentives for offshore business migrations are more to blame for the disappearing jobs.  Our inner cities are ravaged by rampant poverty, family dysfunction, low-performing schools, deteriorating healthcare—all of which create a climate where youths, mostly African American, are exposed to, or victimized by, violence, diseases and lawlessness, and lack the necessary training to face tomorrow’s job market.

That is the tableau that awaits Obama. When some two years ago he embarked on this journey, he launched a laconic, monosyllabic message which resonated with America’s core value system, celebrated her ever rejuvenating capacity, encapsulated the enterprising virtue and vibrancy of her democracy, her resoluteness to conquer fear-mongering, her readiness to take on new challenges:  CHANGE.  This message swept through the East Coast, cut through the mountains of Appalachia, ran through the mills of the Midwest, traversed the slopes of Colorado, and ended up basking in the Californian and Hawaiian suns.  Throughout that journey, that message intersected America’s psyche.  For, America just can’t function with decaying structures.  Her soul is antithetical to sclerosis and paralysis.  Truly, the change message had always been part of the American political lexicon.  More properly put, it had been used and abused by venal and opportunistic politicians to the point that voters had grown skeptical and even cynical about real prospects of change.   That it took an Obama to catalyze the dormant energies of the American electorate and entice its participation in the political process is no accident, for he is the avatar of Change. America has a lot to be proud of!  What generations of politicians had failed to accomplish–connect with America’s consciousness, mobilize shoulder to shoulder the perennial disenfranchised along with the sons and daughters of privilege, revolutionize the way we conduct our politics, give America a new reason to believe in the power of her democracy—was realized by a freshman Senator who two decades ago was an unknown community organizer, a title much derided by the Republicans during their convention in Saint Paul, MN.  In retrospect, their derision spoke volume about their being out-of-touch with the American story, because communities are the backbone of America.  Their derision is reminiscent of a scene of Frank Capra’s classic movie–It’s a Wonderful Life–where the novice George Bailey confronted the all-powerful mogul financier Potter over his attempt to take over Bedford Falls’ savings-and-loans, in the process deriding the ordinary folk in the community as “lazy… sitting on (their) brain”—to which George retorted (I am paraphrasing), “These decent people do most of the living, and buying and dying in this community.  What’s wrong with putting a roof over their heads and not having them crawl to you?”  The idealist George Bailey, community organizer, chose to live in that “crummy little town” and helped those folk be “better citizens”.  Barack Obama picked up on George’s legacy and took it to another level.

America should be proud of the campaign run by this former community organizer.  The enthusiasm generated by Obama’s candidacy, signified by the waves of voter registration, campaign volunteerism, record small donations, is the hallmark of a new dimension of the American democracy, which perhaps neither Jefferson (who was leery of “tyranny by the majority”) nor Jackson (who expanded voting rights to “all white males”) had envisioned or at least advocated.  It is so ironic that this popular effervescence was catalyzed by the son of a couple who were not the immediate or intended beneficiaries of the precepts of the Constitution: a black man and a white woman, none of whom could in 1776 relate to the self-evident truth that “all men (were) created equal”—as a black person was not considered an integral part of mankind and a white woman was equated to a minor, deprived of some of the basic rights and privileges guaranteed by the Constitution.  It is, as it were, a revenge of History that this unlikely hero could move the country one step closer to its ideal of a “more perfect Union”, galvanized the energies of the electorate, broke the apathy fed by a sense of helplessness, irrelevance, and inability to change the course of our politics, rekindled the flame of civism, and offered an alternative to big money influence. That, moreover, Obama never departed from the decency he injected into political campaigning; that Americans from all walks of life, from the plebeians of the steel factories to the patricians of Beverly Hills, flocked to his rallies in search of an inspiration, a new raison d’être or another reason to participate in this grandiose endeavor; that in a solid majority Americans side by side defied all taboos, materialized the “dream” of Martin Luther King, effected the “rainbow coalition” Jesse Jackson aspired to,  and put the destiny of the nation in Obama’s African American hands is a testimony to the vibrancy of our democracy.

If President-elect Obama governs as he campaigns, America will be fine.  If he displays the same qualities that assured his victory–focus, discipline, poise, judgment, composure, intelligence, and efficiency–we will surmount the difficult years ahead.  At this juncture, America needs a strategist with intellectual integrity and fortitude to break with the narrow-mindedness, servile mentality, and simplistic rationalizations that prevailed throughout the previous administration.    If his brilliant campaign provides any insight into his approach to governance, it is that an Obama Administration will in essence be an eclectic one, a cauldron where decision-making proceeds from rational discourse and healthy exchange of ideas rather than gut-feeling. Surrounding himself with the best and brightest from various even divergent persuasions, Obama is confident he has the transformative power to achieve what Hegel calls synthesis, the common ground resulting from the clash of ideas (thesis vs. antithesis).  He must have read the Greek philosophers and been apprised of their art of reasoning (dialectics), the essence of which is that the clash of ideas, when properly orchestrated, inevitably promotes new modes of thinking enriched by fusing the best arguments of the opposing sides.  He must have read Marx and Engels, who further pursued the notion of dialectical relationship, the idea of interdependence and mutual influence.  This is the breadth of knowledge Obama will bring to the presidency–the wisdom the Greeks believed every holder of positions of power was to possess in order to govern wisely and make informed decisions.   Eclecticism, synthesis, syncretism, dialectics may all be fancy words; but they all simply translate into something the American electorate was craving for–consensus, and the American psyche is known for–pragmatism.

In the spirit of pragmatism, Obama will draw from the achievements of our most successful administrations.  He will transcend party identification to marry his vision for a just, equitable, and prosperous America with that of Republican Abraham Lincoln, who assaulted the bastion of inequality along with the decrepit economic structures that conditioned such inequality to move America on a new course that asserted her ascendency as an economic power in her own right. He will partner with Republican Theodore Roosevelt’s environmental activism to stave off any attempts to damage our ecosystem, his economic activism against unbridled corporate greed and monopoly to institute sensible regulations into the marketplace, and his progressive tax policies.  Obama will summon Franklin Roosevelt’s indomitable optimistic spirit displayed in the years that followed the Great Depression and bold inoculation of government vaccine to cure the economic woes of the nation.  He will echo Roosevelt’s stance on government responsibility to jump-start the economy and stimulate demand through massive investments in infrastructure projects.  If Roosevelt is credited for implementing Social Security, Obama will be known for shoring it up.  If Roosevelt put the middle-class on sure footing in America, Obama will be the one who rescues it from the quick sands it finds itself in and ensures its perennial vitality through his economic restructuring plan and healthcare reform.  He will expand on Eisenhower’s concept of connectedness through the Interstate Highway System to connect the people of America via the Internet, so they enjoy their commonalities, appreciate their interdependence, and share access to national resources.  From Kennedy he learns that no frontiers are too distant, too treacherous to America’s purview once the challenge is put to her by a purposeful and trustworthy leader.  As Kennedy had vowed to land a man on the moon within a decade, Obama will engage in a like crusade to usher in the era of alternate sources of energy and green economy, and free America from the tentacles of foreign oil.  He espouses Lyndon Johnson’s quest for greater social justice and vision of Great Society that gave birth to the Civil Rights Act, and will expound on Johnson’s staple healthcare programs, Medicare (for the elderly) and Medicaid (for the poor).  From Carter, he learns the value of a foreign policy intent on promoting peoples’ rights and human dignity.  Like Reagan, he understands the power of the teleprompter as an ally in communicating and connecting with the American people, and the virtue of staying on message. Like Clinton, he understands that the key to success is to govern at the center.

All along his campaign and since elected, Obama has given glimpses of his eclecticism.  His strength lies in that he combines the intellect of an Ivy League scholar with the instincts of a community organizer in some forsaken sections of Chicago’s South Side–two aspects most of us would deem irreconcilable or mutually exclusive.  Having been on both sides of the divide, he is cognizant of their respective expectations and able bridge the gap between them.   Such as a bee that uses its prodigious transformative power to create an original, rich, potent and immensely palatable substance from myriad ingredients gleaned from the surrounding flowers, Obama will likewise take advantage of the most salient achievements of past administrations, engage his advisors in healthy debates of ideas and, in the end, morph it all into a new scheme or paradigm for political and socio-economic action, whereby America ends up enlarged and enriched.

Lastly, some two years ago, when Barack Obama was contemplating his bid for the presidency,  I drew a parallel between him and Michael Jordan.  In my opinion, Jordan’s defining moment was his shot in the waning seconds of the 1982 NCAA championship match between Georgetown and North Carolina who was losing by one point.  A freshman on a North Carolina team that included all-American James Worthy (a senior) and Sam Perkins, Jordan was not supposed to take that shot.  The “correct” thing to do was to yield to his seniors, but he created an opening for himself in the corner and called for the ball.  The disbelief was on everyone’s face, as he confidently elevated and launched the ball, which swooped down the net and led to the championship for Dean Smith and the Tar Heels.    More than the shot, the guts and audacity he displayed that night augured a destiny at the very top of the basketball pyramid.  Likewise, Obama took the shot he “was not” supposed to take as a freshman senator, i.e. run in a field of well-known, experienced lawmakers, against the well-maintained Clinton machine.  He was supposed to yield to the veterans of the Democratic Party, because supposedly he was too inexperienced and, therefore, stood no chance against the Republicans and their Machiavellian tactics.  But what was at stake was too big to silence his guts.  He managed to clear all obstacles, freed himself from his opponents and creating an opening for a jumper.  His shot swooped down the net on November 4, 2008.  The audacity, confidence and self-assurance he displayed all the way through that last shot are nothing short of spectacular and destine him to the top layer of our successful presidencies.

If Jordan’s trajectory is any blueprint for what lies ahead with Obama, America, you’ll be just fine!

 

The Republican Convention: Three Nights of Political Orgy

2008repconvThe 2008 Republican convention will be remembered for its historicity.  From  the 1st to the 4th of September delegates from the fifty states convened in Saint Paul, MN to nominate Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska and Senator John McCain of Arizona as running mates on the 2008 presidential ticket.  First woman vice-presidential nominee for the party, oldest presidential candidate (a septuagenarian), and former prisoner-of-war:  this historic trilogy was celebrated with fanfare and all manner of accolades, tributes, and testimonies.  But, in this high profile celebration, the theme of McCain’s heroism, backed by the account and film footages of his captivity during the Vietnam War, particularly excited the patriotic fervor of the delegates, who, at times, resembled a cult-like assembly acclaiming the advent of a prophet.

That convention was also striking by its oddities.  The homage to John McCain was so redundant that in the end it became obnoxious—at least to an observer in quest of substantive material from a party that boasts a tradition of bringing new ideas into the political space.  In fact, no fresh ideas were introduced.  There was no need for that, judging by the assertion of a senior advisor to McCain that this election was less about ideas than personality—which explained that, at a time of precarious economic conditions, the issues confronting the American people and susceptible to affect their daily lives were conspicuously absent from the party’s platform. Novelty, if any, was about Sarah Palin herself.  This proved sufficient to rev up the crowd and inoculate new life into the moribund campaign of John McCain.  Yet, Palin’s selection had an unintended consequence:  due to revelations about her family life that had  surfaced since picked by McCain, the omnipresent, omnipotent, sacrosanct theme of “family values” which reigned supreme in past conventions had to be sacrificed and stricken out of all the speeches.  To make up for that loss, the time-honored Republican tradition of raw partisan politics, divisionary tactics, and extreme bashing of opponents took on a heightened sense of urgency and dominated center stage.  For safekeeping and maximum impact, that tradition was entrusted to the expert hands of formidable proxies who were either former rivals of McCain’s during the primaries or vice-president hopefuls who lost to Palin during the selection process.   The strident and caustic “thrash and burn” rhetoric—dubbed “red meat” by the pundits–of that special taskforce rallied the crowd–a crowd that did not reflect the socio-cultural mosaic America has come to be.

Days Two and Three of the GOP Convention gave a full measure of the Republican smear machine and the toxic power of the proxies’ rhetoric.  A lot was at stake for them. A strong performance would, on the one hand, help them shake the “loser” stigma that had plagued them since their recent defeats; on the other hand, it could potentially translate into a post in a McCain Administration.  The key, they figured, was to gang up on Barack Obama, turn him into a punching bag, disfigure him or portray him in most villainous terms.  They took turns on the podium to deliver impassioned rants, wherein the belittling, mocking, berating, insulting, patronizing of the Illinois Senator was all fair game. They stopped at nothing in their attacks, as they cleared the way for Sarah Palin to deliver her acceptance speech.  And did they enjoy it!

The first notable proxy on the podium was Fred Thompson.  thompsonWhat a metamorphosis!  He was nothing like the boring, spacey, unmotivated, uninspiring, disengaged speaker who, during the primaries, did not measure up to the hype that surrounded his highly anticipated presidential bid.  His lackluster performances prompted the voters to pull the plug on his campaign after the South Carolina Primary.  Thompson had particularly been a big disappointment to the arch-conservatives who had viewed him as the candidate properly credentialed to carry their banner, and banked on his acting background to effectively advocate for their cause.  The reality was that Big Fred was a shadow of his TV persona on the campaign stump and in the debates, where he stood out by his incoherence and unpreparedness.  But that was then.  The convention gave him a chance to redeem himself.  That he did in grand fashion!  He was dazzling.  Until then I had a certain image of Thompson—a big guy with a grimacing face and a limp, as if bothered by a corn on a pinky toe caught in a tight shoe.  But that night on the podium Big Fred wasn’t limping!  Maybe he had new shoes for the occasion.  Or his podiatrist did marvels on that toe.  For, he was agile; like a leopard, he leapt, pounced.   With a folksy tone of voice and a wicked glee on his face, he attacked Obama with a fury that brought the crowd to their feet…  After all, losing can be a liberating force.  A powerful therapeutic.

Thompson was succeeded by Joe Liebermanlieb—yep, the same Lieberman who, eight years ago, served as Al Gore’s Democratic Vice-President nominee; who in 2006 was disowned by the Connecticut democrats, lost to new comer Greg Lamont in the primaries, and was forced to run as an independent to retain his Senate seat.  He nonetheless partnered with the Democratic senators; by caucusing with them, he conferred to the Democrats a slim 51% majority; in return, they entrusted him with the chairmanship of the important Homeland Security Committee.  Yet, during this campaign, he aligned himself with McCain and, reportedly, was on his small VP list.  Apparently, Joe never got over his rejection and was looking for ways to return the favor.  In short, he had a score to settle with the Democrats and seized on the opportunity the convention gave him.   Behind the microphone he delivered a chef-d’oeuvre of a performance, a masterpiece of duplicity and deception.  Cloaking himself in the democratic mantle, he laid out a scorching indictment of his “liberal” democratic “friends” and launched a stifling invective against Obama in particular.   What made his theatrics unsavory was the energy, the wit he displayed in tearing down Obama—none of which he was known to possess while campaigning with Gore.  The GOP must have inoculated him with some powerful stimulants backstage to transform him from a soporific and uninspiring speaker to an exalted, witty and energetic orator.  Had he exhibited one ounce of that energy, one iota of that wit on the stump or in the debate with Dick Cheney eight years back, Al Gore would have been in the White House.  I pictured Gore in his recliner seething at seeing a reinvented Lieberman dismantle Obama and scorn the Democratic Party, “This guy was all along a closet Republican, a double-agent.  This traitor torpedoed my campaign!”  Turning to his wife, he would confide, “Tipper, now you know who cost you the first-ladyship.”  But Old Joe carried on, imperturbable, none the least bothered by these epithets, confident that his performance guaranteed him a cabinet position of choice in a McCain Administration—possibly Secretary of State or Defense.

Other unsuccessful GOP contenders followed suit behind the microphone to chastise Obama, with a varying amount of venom.  Among them, Mike Huckabee stood out as a dignified loser.  Clearly he gave McCain a run for his money, despite campaigning on a shoestring.  On that score, it was not surprising that he broke rank with the group.  Though he attacked Obama, one did not sense the viciousness or the vitriol that his predecessors at the tribune had chosen to coat their speech with. Romney, for his part, did throw some jibes at Obama, but he did not leave any scars.  He had other things on his mind, as he was still dealing with the shock of being passed over in favor of the Governor of Alaska, though he had been touted as most complementary to McCain thanks to his command of economic matters and extensive executive experience.  He had been rumored as the most likely VP since the time he dropped out of the race.  Some even suggested that he earned the VP slot for the fierce battle he waged against McCain in Michigan, a general election battleground state, for his timely exit from the race, and for his conservative views (or so he thinks!).  Trying to fathom what went wrong, he had to acknowledge a few things in a monologue.  “Of course, I flip-flopped on right-to-life.  Actually, I would argue I only flipped.  Besides who doesn’t flip-flop from time to time! The “Mav” himself did on immigration and drilling.  So what!  Or could it be my healthcare plan?  It may not have been conservative enough for some.  So what!  I could defend it…  Or could it be that Mormon thing?   That’s it!  That’s what did it!” What all that means was that he had to get rid of his carefully crafted “attack dog” harangue and settle for an emasculated version of it, very light on “red meat”.   Actually he showed up because he was a good sport and didn’t want to be labeled a sore loser.  But God knows how badly he wanted the VP post!

Such ambition was never one of Rudy Giuliani’s, the former New York Mayor, who delivered the most virulent diatribe against Obama.  Giuliani was the loser par excellence.  guilianiIt was ironic that this most incompetent campaigner saw it fit to disparage the guy who, by all accounts, ran the best managed campaign of the 2008 presidential race.  Something was quite dissonant about that.  Rudy ought to be reminded that, at the onset of the primaries, the pundits predicted the Republican nomination was his to lose, thanks to his name recognition and fundraising connections.  That he managed to lose the nomination was the most spectacular blunder in American politics.  He adopted a flawed strategy, focusing his race on big states, and neglecting to campaign in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan, seemingly confident that his notoriety would guarantee victory in these states.  He decided that Florida was the only state worthy of a campaign effort and deployed all his assets in there. Yet, he suffered a crushing defeat and finished third behind McCain and Romney—a humiliating return on the millions he invested in the Sunshine State.  He retired his bid with his tail between his legs, and disappeared from the scene for a while, hoping to get rehabilitated in due time.  The road to rehabilitation, he reckoned, passed through St. Paul, MN.  There he went, equipped with a scorching speech replete with sarcasm, derision, hurtful sentiment against Obama.  Rudy is a very competitive guy.  He would not be outdone by a Thompson or a Lieberman, whose derogatory speeches were praised for their “red meat” effect.  He could do better.  His job was to psych up the crowd and pave the way to Governor Sarah Palin, who was to deliver her acceptance speech as VP nominee.  He understood that to mean: the nastier, the better.  Under such terms, no one can surpass Rudy.  To the delectation of the delegates and his own amusement, he unleashed an avalanche of low blows onto the Illinois Senator, belittling his experience and questioning his associations. He punctuated all that with a mischievous grin that added to the sadistic flavor of the moment.  His mean-spiritedness reached its climax when he derided Obama’s community organizer’s past.   That was vintage Rudy.  That a 23-year old Ivy-Leaguer would forgo the comfort and security of some junior executive position and choose instead to be an advocate for the defenseless, is it not a worthwhile endeavor?  Isn’t that a testimony to his altruism?  What is wrong with giving hope to folk down on their luck, empowering them, helping them regain their dignity?  Isn’t it a patriotic task of a higher order to help the citizenry become better citizens, at a juncture in their lives where they could easily succumb to all manners of temptations?  What is wrong with giving the voiceless a voice in the political process, inculcating civic virtues in them, teaching them the power of the ballot, and registering them to vote?  Evidently, Rudy was not impressed; his wicked, sadistic and demoniacal smile suggested he could not care less.  Why would he?  That is the kind of people he would harass or jail for public disturbance or seditious activity.  Rudy despises folks like these and views them as threats to public peace.  Under a US Attorney Giuliani, Obama and his down-stricken communities would be prosecuted with the full force of the law for attempting to disquiet the good conscience of the well-to-do.  In taking that route, he may have thought it was a sure way to get the attorney-general post in a McCain administration…

When Giuliani stepped away from the podium, the delegates were in a state of sheer delirium, made all the more acute by the imminent arrival of Sarah Palin.   palinThey wanted to see up close this new phenomenon that captivated the hearts (if not the minds) of the party, and given them a reason to be optimistic.   They had a sneak preview of her zest, a flavor of her rhetorical power at her introduction by McCain less than a week earlier.  Since then, a series of revelations about her private life had threatened to tame her rushing waves.  For a moment, the campaign was forced into a defensive mode; but thanks to the conservative enthusiasts who rallied to her rescue, her star lived to shine another night—Night Three of the Convention.  That night was to be her defining moment, her opportunity to validate John McCain’s judgment and vindicate herself.  For the exuberant crowd, the wait was finally over.   So much was made by the McCain camp of her “superior” executive experience, her unifying ability.  (One will recall that the “architect”, Karl Rove, just about a week before her selection, discarded one-term Virginia Governor Tim Kaine as too inexperienced to be on the Democratic ticket; but amazingly he did not use the same argument with respect to Palin, a one-term governor in office for less than two years, whom nonetheless he praised for her “top-notch” managerial experience.  For Rove, Obama’s choice of Kaine would be “highly political”, but McCain’s was an “excellent” one. Go figure that!)  Anyway on that night, the only credential the raucous and vociferous crowd deemed suitable was her ruthlessness in taking on Barack Obama.  In that she did not disappoint them.  From the moment she stepped in front of the microphone, they sensed that Obama found his match at the teleprompter:  Such pep, and grit, and punch!  She got them enthralled when she drew a similitude between her and a pitbull,  “lipstick” being their only degree of separation.  Again that convention was a forum for the denunciation of the Democratic nominee.  The idea was to cast a shadow of suspicion and distrust on him, enough to scare away the “undecideds.”  Along that line, she picked up Giuliani’s rant about Obama’s community organizer’s past where he left off and added her own Alaskan slant to it—which the delegates found uproarious.   She demonstrated that she was a quick study, that she didn’t need much coaching to adapt to the Washington thrash-and-burn style of politics. In fact, she exceeded all expectations.  Her lipstick line could not have possibly come from a Romney, a Crist, a Ridge or Pawlenty.  In self-congratulatory terms, McCain appended this comment after Palin’s performance: “Now you see why I picked her as my running mate?”

The last convention night was devoted to John McCain’s acceptance speech.  mccainIronically, after his allies and surrogates had spread the seeds of division for two consecutive nights along the lines of patriotism, insinuating that a vote against McCain would be one against the country, McCain extended the olive branch, pledged to govern as a unifier, ready to “reach across the aisle” to work with democrats, republicans, and independents alike.  The fact of the matter is that McCain’s call for unity sounded disingenuous and hypocritical in the face of the divisive and incendiary rhetoric of the various speakers who preceded him at the podium—which by the way he did not repudiate in any shape or form.  Moreover, his speech was short of policies and ideas, which gave more credence to the view expressed by one of his senior advisers that this race was less about ideas than personality.   Aside from a new tone, McCain’s speech was adorned with lifts from Obama and Hillary Clinton.  Astonishingly the Arizona Senator appropriated Obama’s “Change” message and portrayed himself as the candidate who would bring it to people’s lives—a clear indication of his intent to court the independents.  Never mind he did not lay out a plan to achieve the much-needed change.  After all, he is John McCain, a simple man “saved by his country”, ready to sacrifice himself for it in return, and asking his countrymen for a blank check in exchange of his soldier’s word that he would fight for them as fiercely as his scars could prove.  The latter part of his speech may well be the best of it all, as he unleashed a salvo, a litany of exhortation cries, reminiscent of Clinton’s fighting trademark–a clear pass at the so-called “Hillary” voters.    This high-pitch finale added lyricism to an ordinary speech and may have saved it from oblivion.

The 2008 Republican Convention will be remembered for one singular note of civility that emanated from an unlikely source.  In the midst of the profuse insanity that polluted the air inside the convention hall during that week, a lesson of utmost decency and genuine humanity was given by a lone seven-year-old in the audience.  While her mother was rocking the convention floor and spreading the negative vibes of personal destruction, daughter Piper Palin, impervious to that madness, was dispensing sisterly love to her infant brother, cuddling him, and contrastingly rocking him with tender and loving care. The highest expression of that love was displayed when she licked her palm and used the saliva to tame a rebellious hair lock of her brother’s.  ppalinpiperpalinIt was refreshing to see that the atmosphere of orgy and bacchanals that had marked the convention did not manage to taint the soul of that innocent seven-year-old.  For my part, that was the refreshing note that emerged from the 2008 Republican Convention in St. Paul, MN.

A Train Ride to the Workplace

Seven o’clock am:  The commute routine. The train arrives.  On the platform, you tactically position yourself to be at the doorstep, when the doors open.  The objective is to board first and not have to negotiate a coveted seat.    The key is to act nonchalant, not to rush in and beat some lady to a choice seat, and risk a reproaching look and be judged uncouth.  On a lucky day, things go your way:  You get your window seat, make yourself comfortable, hoping not to have to endure the company of a neighbor in the adjacent seat for the duration of the ride.  But in fact, on most days you are not that lucky.  Somehow and out of nowhere, someone will nudge her way in front of you at the very last minute, mysteriously followed by a couple of others, taking advantage of your civility.  And there goes your chance to occupy a choice seat!  You get an aisle seat at best.

Socializing on the way to the workplace is out of place.  A train car during rush hour is not a joint where buddies hang out, nor should it be mistaken for a place where brotherhood and fellowship flourish.  It is by no means the Fellowship of the Well-Intended Riders, Ltd or the Fraternity of the Altruistic Commuters, Inc.  You will not see the reader of a best-seller, in a spirit of altruism, open up the book so as to share its content with a neighbor.  Riders are not united by a common bond.  The only thing they have in common is a certain expression marked by the angst of another day at work, of challenges old and new awaiting them.  Look around and meet these I-am-not-in-the-mood or don’t-mess-with-me faces, who would rather be somewhere else, if it weren’t for their mortgage, kids in college, health care needs.  To trump that angst, riders resort to reading, crossword puzzles, or the popular number puzzle, Sudoku.  Most commuters don’t want to be bothered by a talkative neighbor.  (Whoever said man was a sociable animal was not talking about commuters.  If they had their way, they would rather have their briefcase or handbag as their neighbor in the next seat over.) For the sake of decency, they painstakingly endure the first few niceties of an exchange, but—to thwart any chance of a conversation—they quickly bury their faces in a newspaper or a book, or pull their now ubiquitous laptop and start banging away at their keyboard, or plug both ears with an iPod device or a cell phone.  For others, it is a chance to catch up with their sleep—such as that guy with the specialty of curling his body in a posture reminiscent of his days as a fetus in his mother’s wombs (perhaps was he nostalgic of such days), bringing both knees upward to rest against the back of the seat in front of him.  Ladies of a certain age do their quilting, knitting or crocheting.  On occasion, you may see a couple of people having a chat; they must be neighbors or co-workers who could not avoid one another.  Suffice to say that a train car is not the type of tightly-knit organization, a confrérie where you can apply for membership!

That morning was one of those where I ended up in an aisle seat.  Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.  Except that one guy got busted for committing one of the cardinal sins of commuting–from the corner of his eyes he tried to catch a glimpse of his neighbor’s paper.  Somehow the neighbor sensed the subterfuge, turned a scolding eye at the usurper and changed his angle to foil any attempts by the latter to further engage in his parasitic behavior.  Other than that, it was an uneventful commute… until the lady next to me, who had been staring out the window, received a phone call.

“Hello”, she said, “Speaking”, she went on after a short silence…“The doctor said it’s OK for her to go to school, as long she keeps her foot elevated”, she paused, pondering the reaction at the other end of the line.
“But I did ask him and he said it was fine!”  She paused again.  Then, with a sharp tone of voice, she pounced:
“You want her to stay out for two weeks, is that it?  Are you telling me that you cannot provide accommodation for her to keep her foot elevated?” she asked, waited for an answer, then charged:
“In that case, I want to speak to somebody else…,” she stopped short, apparently being interrupted.
“That’s fine! They got my number. Make sure someone competent calls me.”  She ended the call.

A short while thereafter, the phone rang.
“Yeah!” she answered, then paused.  “I don’t understand your concerns.  The doctor told me, all she has to do is keep her foot elevated and she should be fine.  What’s the big deal?  I will have to talk to the district about that.”  She paused again, this time a little longer and then erupted:
“Know what!  I’ll tell you what to do with it:  Shove it up your (expletive)!” And she hung up.

Seconds later, she dialed a number.  The tone noticeably changed.
“Hi, Sweetie, the school won’t allow Megan to set foot in the building.”  Pause.
“C’mon, it’s not that they have to follow regulations; they just do what they want to do, these idiots.”  Pause.
“Well, whatever!” she said dismissively.   “I know you’re running late.  Can you drive by the school, pick up her up and take her to Grandma’s?”   she asked.
“I know.  You don’t have to stay.  Just drop her off, will you?”  Pause… “Sure, I’ll call her.  Luv yah!”

She ended the call, then dialed another number.
“Yeah, it’s me.  How’re you?  Can Megan come over?”  Pause…
“Well, you know, she had that stupid accident yesterday; her foot is in a cast.  The school refuses to let her in…” she stopped as though she was interrupted.
“Sure! The doctor gave her a note.  The note says she may return to school in ten days.” Pause…
“But I did ask him and he said OK, as long as she can keep her foot elevated—but he didn’t put ‘it down in the note.  And, of course, you know, these incompetent jerks at school won’t understand…”
“Anyway,” she went on, “Brian is bringing her on his way to school.  He’s already running late.  Thanks!  See you later.”

One could tell that the pushy lady tried to twist the doctor’s arm and get him to put her “special” request in the may-return-to-school note.  One could also see the doc resist:
“Listen, Lady, ain’t gonna put nothin’ down on paper.  Think I’m crazy?  You wanna send your daughter to school, that’s between you and the school”, the doc could have retorted.

Well, actually, it is very unlikely that the prestigious MD would have used such trivial language.  His objection would probably go like this:
“By virtue of the Hippocratic Oath, holding me to the highest degree of ethical conduct, I must advise you that this fracture–though benign in appearance, as it has superficially broached the shin–has the potential of developing into a cassure, should the bone come in contact with a contondant object.  A school environment is highly conducive to such an occurrence.  To obviate this eventuality, in my opinion, it’s best to keep your daughter out of school for ten days.”

Translation:
“With my malpractice premium going to the roof, do you think I’m going to take a chance with your brat and her rowdy buddies at school, and put my license on the line?  Next thing I’ll know is that I’ll have to respond to a lawsuit.  No way,  Jos
é
!”


That said, in some ways, I empathized with that mother.  In a work environment decimated by restructurations, downsizings or rightsizings–where jobs are redefined, positions phased out or consolidated to
achieve economies of scale—it is not hard to imagine the pressure the workplace subjected her to.  She probably could not afford to take any more days off, whether she ran out of time from her leave pool or she did not see it wise to disrupt the fragile equilibrium in the office by taking a few more days, at a time when deadlines were approaching.  Imagine she was one of those highly flexible employees cost-conscious executives tend to depend on to make up for headcount loss arising from reorganization or attrition.  Moreover, imagine it was quarter-end and financial statements were due to the parent company so it could file its 10-Q or honor its conference call with Wall Street analysts—any delay in that regard could potentially wreak havoc on the company stock price, which could have devastating consequences.


On the other hand, work pressure notwithstanding, the abuse the school administrators suffered at the hand of that mother was unjustified.  They were only following guidelines and procedures established by their own workplace.  That exchange points to one of the challenges public schools face—lack of parental support, which oft-times translates into lack of respect for school regulations and officials by the students, and into an environment detrimental to learning.  It is doubtful that the mother would have used such heavy-handed tactics and colorful language vis-à-vis a parochial or a private school.  However, against her daughter’s public school she figured she had enough leverage to make “these idiots” bow to her whims…


And, all the while, she showed absolutely no regard to this fellow commuter in the next seat over!

It Does Come Down To Judgment

            Remember George Bush’s comment after his first meeting with President Putin of Russia, that he looked him in the eye and connected with his soul.  He then concluded that Putin was a good man that he could trust.  John McCain may detest the idea of being compared to George W. Bush, but his affinities with the president are undeniable.  McCain’s latest act, the selection of his vice-president after just one meeting with her, echoes the Bush-Putin moment and augurs the kind of administration he would preside over—a presidency, where the decision-making process is driven by gut-feeling rather than methodical analysis of facts.  We know where that kind of thinking or lack thereof led us under George W. Bush.

            Much can be said about McCain’s pick of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate.  More than the selection itself, the process leading to that selection raises serious questions with respect with McCain’s mindset and leadership.  As we all know, the Republican presumptive nominee had secured the nomination of his party since March, at a time when the Democrats were still embroiled in a dogfight for their party nomination that came to fruition only in June, two months ago.  That he waited for Barack Obama to name his VP on August 23 to follow suit does not exemplify leadership or exude confidence, vision and strong convictions.  Reacting to events as they unfold is not effective leadership.  Such criticism has been levied against the Bush Administration about not being proactive, especially in the area crisis or calamity management—as epitomized by its disastrous handling of Hurricane Katrina.  In that regard, McCain has exposed a reactive style of leadership that is fraught with potential troubles.

            The judgment factor can also be invoked.  Upon Obama’s return from his foreign relations tour, McCain assailed him with the charge that the Illinois Senator cared more about himself than about the country.  By contrast, he (McCain) claimed that he put the country first.  The question then for McCain is:  How does Sarah Palin’s selection prove this point?  If something were to happen to him, in whose hands would the country be better off: Mitt Romney’s or Sarah Palin’s?  Charlie Crist’s or Sarah Palin’s?  In what way does he see Sarah Palin more effective a president than Tom Ridge or Tim Pawlenty?  McCain confessed that the economy was his Achilles’ heel; so, in what way does Sarah Palin compensate for this deficiency?  This is a reckless and desperate move that contradicts John McCain’s claim.  The thought and decision process that he revealed in making his choice is far from reassuring.  If the choice of a vice-president is the first indicator of the caliber of a nominee’s judgment and provides an insight into his intellectual depth, the country should greet this decision with great caution and skepticism.  If anything, John McCain has demonstrated how lacking his judgment is.  Either he was misled by his advisors on the vetting committee—in which case he severely lacked discernment to see through that, or he overrode their recommendations and simply relied on his gut-feeling.  One wonders whether his next big international crisis will be dealt with by relying on his gut.  God save us!  That will be George Bush all over again!

            It is amazing that nobody in the press seems to raise the hard questions.  This is reminiscent of the pass George Bush received during the build-up to the Iraq invasion.  Again the reservation is not about Governor Palin, per se.  The issue is fairly and squarely about John McCain, the judiciousness of his decision-making, the quality of his judgment and the caliber of his leadership.  By all indications, Mrs. Palin appears to be a decent person, a mother with admirable morals, and an administrator of integrity.    However, when she is being praised by some pundits—by the way, the same ones who unconditionally supported Bush’s folly in Iraq–for her executive experience, in a way that I feel makes Mitt Romney’s and Crist’s look paltry, this is partisan politics at its lowest.  The press will be faced with new charges of malpractice, should it fail to raise those concerns.  The question needs to be asked of John McCain in what way Romney’s executive experience well in display for a successful management of the Olympics in Utah, his private sector experience and as the governor of one of the major states of the country was surpassed by Mrs. Palin’s experience.  What compelling reasons can John McCain put forth for passing over Charlie Crist of Florida, the popular governor of a key state, who would bring to the table enormous skills in terms of disaster or crisis management.   What about Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania and head of Homeland Security?  In the eyes of McCain, such qualifications were not impressive enough to cede the commander-in-chief position to a Vice-President Ridge.  In contrast, he saw it fit to leave the country’s destiny in the hands of the Governor of Alaska, who has been in office for less than two years, and whose prior experience amounted to the mayorship of a town of less 8,000 souls, where supposedly she cut taxes and balanced the budget (—rings like gold in conservative ears!)  And, by the way, so as to shore up the experience argument, the pundits brandished Mrs. Palin’s small business ownership credentials.  All these qualify her to handle the next crisis involving the Russians, whom Mrs. McCain just back from a trip to Georgia labeled as “real bad people”(—I wonder what Bush thinks now of his buddy, Putin.)  John McCain saw the Alaska Gover
nor fit to engage in delicate treaty negotiations with China, the Middle East; more equipped to respond to the next big crises that the U.S. will be faced with than a Romney, a Crist, a Ridge, or a Kay Bailey Hutchinson.  “That’s remarkable.  Remarkable”, as McCain, himself, would sarcastically say.

            All these point to the fact that this selection was a desperate move by John McCain to hopefully leap ahead of Obama in the polls.  His way to achieve that goal was to go after Hillary Clinton’s supporters, whom he has been relentlessly courting ever since Obama picked Joe Biden.  Here again, I fail to understand his reasoning.  Was it just a gender issue that caused Hillary’s disaffected supporters to cling to her, so that any woman selected would satisfy their quest, irrespective of that woman’s position on the issues that are dear to them?  The other consideration is the opportunity to further his drilling agenda.  “Drill, drill, drill” is McCain’s chant de guerre  (battle cry).  For McCain, drilling is the way out of our oil dependency.  His economic plan centers on two points: extending George Bush’s tax cuts to the 5% richest companies and individuals, and drilling for oil.  As the Governor of oil-rich Alaska and open to drilling, Palin was judged ideal.  In addition to that, the pundits sought to raise her profile by pointing to her challenge of political figures from her own party.  And they dare Obama to produce evidence that he did the same.   Obama did better!  He stood up against George Bush and denounced his “dumb war” on Iraq, at a time when Bush’s popularity was soaring; at time it was politically suicidal on his part, as he was running a congressional campaign; at a time when the war opponents recoiled from manifestly voicing their opposition for fear of being labeled “unpatriotic”—which the Bush machine did not hesitate to do.  By the way, Obama should brush aside any attempt by the Republican spin machine to draw a parallel between Mrs. Palin and him and remind them that he is not running against her but rather against John McCain.

            My only question for Governor Palin and the right wing of the Republican Party that is so enthused by her pick is this:  She made a decision as courageous as noble to bring to life a baby struck by down-syndrome; the baby is just four-months old; how does she intend to discharge her duties of vice-president, while her infant son will be battling one such challenging illness?  What do her maternal instincts tell her?  The conservative faction of the Republican Party has of late championed the theme of family values.  Does not this say something about the hypocrisy of all those who go around berating the Democrats for their lax morals and, now, supporting wholeheartedly such a controversial decision by Mrs. Palin to accept the nomination?  If family values really mean something, should Mrs. Palin not decline the offer and sacrifice her personal ambitions to the benefit of her infant son and her country.  After all, there are a whole host of other candidates who can, and are ready to step into the vice-presidency–unless she truly believes she is the best qualified of them all, which is preposterous and would be utterly arrogant; or she believes she is a godsend to her party and to the country.

            After the debacle of the George W. Bush presidency, America needs a president who uses his intellectual faculties and his discernment to make decisions after pondering relevant facts and views submitted to him.  The 2008 presidential race has never been about experience.  It has always been about foresight and judgment.  The challenge to the American people is for them to make a judgment call of their own and elect the candidate whose judgment they see superior to lead America onto the troubled waters ahead.   It will be a tall order for John Mc Cain to prove that he can prevail on such grounds.

            In view of such flagrant deficiency in judgment, the Obama’s message should be:  

             Change You Can Count On! Judgment To Lead and Bring the Change!

Obama Can Put The Game Away… And Should!

For the Barack Obama candidacy the February caucases and primaries were a watershed that propelled him to front runner status in a spate of victories across the American landscape.  The winning cascade that landed eleven states in his lap was very impressive, for it straddled ideological, racial and geographical lines.  His momentum was such that, by some estimation, he was closer than ever to the Democratic nomination… unless Hillary Clinton found a way to stop him.  She did just that in winning the Ohio and Texas primaries.  Most telling about her success were her tactics:  relentless fighting spirit, determination to challenge Obama’s preparedness to lead and attacks on his credibility.  The anatomy of her victory showed how ruthless she could be, but also how great a sense of timing and opportunism she possesses.

 

Hillary capitalized on mishaps by some of Obama’s senior staff to draw a contrast between his words and his deeds, in an attempt to cast doubts on his trustworthiness and authenticity—generally considered his assets. First, there was the NAFTA gaffe, where his economic advisor argued to a Canadian diplomat that his tough stand on that trade ageement was but campaign rhetoric.  This faux-pas was followed by a comment by his foreign policy advisor in an interview with the BBC, seemingly going counter to his emphatic pledge to withdraw from Iraq within sixteen months of taking office.  It was quite damaging that, unbeknownst to him (a commander-in-chief aspirant), his staff were making representations to foreign diplomats  and the press, that undermined his publicly stated position on such crucial issues as NAFTA and Iraq.  For a campaign that up to that point had received high marks for its efficiency, organization, and savvy, these incidents put to the test its ability to effectively manage crises.  For a time, things seemed to unravel.  Visibly caught off-guard, Obama scrambled for a response and sought to mitigate the damage.  He precipitously denied that the NAFTA meeting ever took place–which he retracted afterwards, then observed a long silence… too long a silence.  Sensing the confusion, Hillary jumped in to fill the void and offer her spin.  She equated these episodes not to mistakes but to deliberate acts of deceit and cynicism, at odds with Obama’s campaign slogans of integrity, transparency and authenticity.  Meanwhile, in providing wide coverage to those flaps, the press found a way to redeem itself in Hillary’s eyes, as her repeated calls for “vetting” Obama were finally coming to fruition. The senator from New York didn’t stop there; she opened up another front on that battle, emphasizing her experience depth, derisively reducing Obama’s to one thing: his speech against the war in 2002.  This multi-prong assault neutralized Obama; and his reluctance or inability to mount a rapid and credible response cost him Ohio and Texas. 

 

The defeat in those two important states is something for the Illinois senator to grow on.  That the next big contest will not happen until the Pennsylvania primary gives him a chance to assess what went wrong and see how to remedy it.  Now that he got his reality check, he will appreciate what is at stake and feel the “fierce urgency of now.”Now, indeed, in the campaign for Pennsylvania is the time for Obama to counter-attack.  He showed he had the stomach to take in blows, even low blows.  As if he were impervious to them, he displayed great composure in the face of these pointed attacks.  In politics, it is only a virtue if you can demonstrate an equal ability to effectively counter-attack.  Altruistic feelings aside, he cannot afford to remain impassive to those attacks and let his records and statements be distorted without impunity.  If he is letting himself bullied by the former First Lady and retreats to a corner, for fear of appearing inconsistent with the thematic of his campaign–change from old politics, it will be hard for him to convince the American people that he will not cave in to the bullying of some renegade regime out there.  There will be plenty in the world who will be tempted to test his resolve.  The world is watching and taking note.  If he cannot stand up to Hillary, how will he expect to fare against the tandem Putin/Medvedev, whose Russia is poised to regain its superpower status and seeks aggressively to counterbalance the American influence?  How will he stand up to Iran’s Ahmadinejad, who has frustrated Bush’s foreign policy for the fast few years?  How will he stand to a Sarkozy, whose France’s Gaullist tendencies in foreign policy feed its pretention of being one of the great powers and put it in contention for world leadership?   How is he going to stand up to Chinese President Hu Jintao’s and his Politburo’s hegemonic ambitions or rising diplomatic, economic and military power?  How would he deal with the hawkish policies of a Benjamin Netanyahu, if he were to become prime minister of Israel?  How will he be perceived by the Arab League of Nations, whose leaders include elder statesmen like Egypt’s Moubarak and Ghadaffi, who have a lot to show for in terms of political acumen?  How is he going to fare vis-à-vis buoyant emerging nations, like Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and other Latin American states that have steered away from the American model?  For sure, Obama’s resilience and toughness are going to be tested not just by our foes, but also by our friends. His paralysis may be construed as indecisiveness by those who look up to America for world leadership or timidity by those who vie to supplant it on the world scene.   The former will probably turn to the latter for substitutes to America’s leadership.  And plenty will avail themselves.  If Obama has some scruples about being tough toward a lady, notice will be taken by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, who is probably on course of being an influential world leader.  By the way, Chancellor Merkel is more of a conservative ideological bent, which means that she is not going to see eye to eye with him on a number of issues.

 

Obama is probably at this moment the most popular American political figure in the world, perhaps on equal footing with Bill Clinton (if not better, after Clinton’s latest campaign gaffes.)  The world is well predisposed toward a President Obama.  After eight disastrous years of Bush’s policies that brought worldwide anathema and ridicule to the US, it will take somebody of Obama’s stature to repair our image.  Neither Hillary nor McCain has the credibility to change the world’s view of the US, given that they voted for the Iraq war.  Should Obama become president, America would enjoy the same worldwide sympathy and political capital as it did in the aftermath of 911.  The world awaits Obama and is ready to celebrate a renewed partnership with the US.  Under the imperial presidency of George W. Bush America lost its luster, as his policies trampled the liberties citizens and non-citizens alike had enjoyed as sacred under the Constitution.  America ceased to be a beacon of freedom for the entire world but, rather, was relegated to the status of a petty power, the like of which dictators around the world feel a kinship to.  Before George Bush, America was venerated as the bastion of liberty for masses around the world, where due process and habeas corpus flourished, where wrong was made right regardless of its origin.  By contrast, George Bush presided over a vilified America, whose image was tarnished by the arrogance of a simple-minded president inept at discerning nuances; an America damaged by a policy of rendition, where the CIA violated the sanctity of other nations en route to conducting its dirty torture business; an America that abdicated its moral authority and engaged in incarcerations under dubious pretenses in violation of the rule of law; an America that betrayed the tenets of its democracy by wire-tapping phone conversations and continually infringing upon its most endeared constitutional amendments.  It will take a three-hundred-sixty degree turn to mitigate the damage inflicted on America by the images of atrocities perpetrated at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, in violation of the Geneva Convention as regards treatment of prisoners of war.  And that is where Obama comes in.  He is the only one able to provide a clean slate from George W. Bush.  America’s prestige around the world is at stake in this election –a patriotic task of a different kind, yet of high order.  It is up to Obama to live up to that task.

 

The question for Obama is:  How badly does he want the nomination?  He needs to show that he is ready to do battle.  He can do it without resorting to dirty tactics and smear-campaigning.  He doesn’t have to get into Whitewater, Vince Foster, Susan McDougall, Vince Foster, dubious stock deals—all of which were controversies that plagued the Clinton presidency.  References to these issues would undoubtedly be viewed as negative; Obama should stay away from them.  For her part, the New York senator shows how desperate she is, by personally engaging in gratuitous personal attacks.  She is vexed by Obama’s advance; the more she is, the more she will resort to those desperate means.  Yet, he cannot afford to let her go about her aggressive posture without impunity!  Leaving to surrogates and the press the task of doing his battle for him will not work.  He needs to take matters into his own hands and show passion on the campaign trail, even indignation at being portrayed as he is.  First, he has to attack head-on Hillary’s claim of experience.  She trumpeted with much hype her thirty-five years experience, a claim that has yet to be challenged despite her contention of having been thoroughly “vetted” by the media.  He did not have to wait for her First Lady’s schedule to be released to confirm that she didn’t have much to show for, in terms of policy matters at the White House.  If anything, the schedule shows that much of her policy involvement was with Bill’s health care plan, a well-known fiasco.  For the most part, the schedule is heavily redacted.  This suggests that the healthcare failure had a sobering effect on her, in that her role was subsequently reduced to a more traditional or ceremonial one having little to do with policy-making.  One explanation for that might be that the Monica Lewinsky affair had so badly strained her relations with Bill that she took a sabbatical from his politics.  On the other hand, the heavy redactions might confirm Hillary’s secretiveness–an allegation that has dogged her throughout her career; or they might suggest that they were about meetings she didn’t want to make public for fear that such disclosure  would be politically damaging—in much the same way Dick Cheney fought against the release of any documents relating to his meetings with oil lobbyists.

 

Any way one looks at Hillary’s White House experience, it is marginal and deliberately inflated to argue her electability, in the same way her “mission” to Bosnia was.  Actual video footage of her landing in Bosnia reduced her depiction of her so-called arrival “under sniper fire” to a fantastical tale.  The same could be said about her claims of involvement in resolving the impasse in Northern Ireland, and standing up to China.  Now perhaps the first time in this race Hillary is on the defensive.  Now is for Obama the time to thwart any attempt by her for a come-back.  Especially now that he seemed to have recovered from the Reverend Wright controversy.  Never again should he allow Hillary to go about boasting her so-called experience.  He should not sit on his laurels and be content to leave it to her to self-destroy, or to his surrogates to mount the assaults, or to party leaders to pressure her to drop out.  He has to be the best advocate for his case.

 

It is true that Hillary, in her desperation, discredited herself thanks to her taste for grandiose tales and bold exaggerations.  However, she should never be counted out. In a last ditch effort, she is probably concocting some fierce attack ads to air in the waning days of the Pennsylvania campaign, in the same vein as the Texas and Ohio ads.  Her cronies must be on a deep sea fishing expedition, hoping to emerge with a catch of such magnitude that her vow to take her campaign to the convention would seem plausible. If Ohio and Texas provide any insight into her mindset, such insidious attacks will be swift and their timing so judiciously picked that by the time Obama would get to respond, the damage would have already been done.  So, he cannot let his guard down, leave his opponent the latitude to define him, or be in a situation where again he will have to defend himself.  He must be on the attack, refute Hillary’s assertion of being “fully vetted”, insist on the release of the donor list of Bill Clinton’s Presidential Library–which potentially could show some serious conflicts of interest.  Incidently, Hillary again showed how shrewd a politician she was, when she chose to release her tax returns at the start of a weekend, precisely one working day before General Petraeus was scheduled to appear before Congress and report on the Iraq war.  Perfect timing, as it was guaranteed that the scrutiny of the tax return would be drowned by the Petraeus hearing.  Indeed it was!  But he cannot just let the matter be swept under the rug.

 

On another front, Obama must stay on message.  The unity theme of that message that has resonated so well with the public should constantly be rekindled.  Hillary may well end up winning Pennsylvania.  She will again brandish the claim of winning all big states and deride him for only winning small states.  The divisiveness of such a claim should not be lost on Obama.  A future president should not draw a wedge between big states and small states.  That would be irresponsible.  The implication would be that small states don’t matter.  So go New York, California, Texas, so go the nation!  That is absurd!  Besides, wouldn’t that raise some constitutional issues? Obama must stick to his rallying cry of unifying the country and ending divisions along ethnic, geographic and socio-economic lines.

 

This race should not be resolved at the Convention.  To use a sports analogy, Obama can put the game away and close the deal.  And he should.  If he fails to do that, he still can win the nomination; but he will not earn Hillary’s respect.

 

Sorry, Ray, You Got To Go!

Years ago, I worked at a glass factory as the assistant manager to the plant manager.  Raul H.  was a Mexican American veteran of the Korean War, which had left him with a scar on his arm and a slightly perceptible limp from his right leg.  We shared a small office on the plant floor.  His desk was big enough to accommodate an adding machine for my use on the right-hand side and space for my ten-column ledgers.  He was a pipe smoker.  In those days, second-hand smoking didn’t make the headlines and pipe-smoking itself had no significance beyond a fashion statement.

I was brought in because the recently hired operations manager needed help to implement his vision of production management.  Wayne H. had developed production standards for each job and intended to use them in a variety of ways:  inventory management, production scheduling, plant efficiency and employee performance appraisal.  Part of my job had to do with the latter two.  For a small family business, that was quite novel and, indeed, revolutionary.  Wayne H. came on board thanks to the son of the majority owner of the firm.  Dan S. stood to inherit his aging father’s side of the business and intended to build on the solid ground the two owners had laid for him.  He had no propensity for hands-on management, though.  In fact, he was a dilettante who showed up perhaps once a week, sported a well-trimmed beard and drove fast cars.  The first time I saw him, he was wearing a neck brace due to injuries he sustained from a car accident involving his Corvette.  On his visits, he spent most of his time “strategizing” with Wayne.

Wayne didn’t win himself a house of friends at that place.  Everybody had a beef against him.  The factory workers found his standards to be a nuisance, as they had to log in their daily production.  That was a challenge for many of them, more so for those who were barely literate.  The two owners, for their part, hardly spoke to him.  At first, they greeted his approach with skepticism, and in the end they considered it a waste because the value added to the overall operations was marginal at best, in light of his hefty salary.  After all, their S-corporation had always been making money, thanks to their business acumen.  As far as they were concerned, his approach had nothing to show for.  Wayne wasn’t a popular figure in the front office either.  He was altogether perceived as brilliant, aloof and haughty.  His smarts were so evident that his interlocutors felt inhibited to the point that, for their ego’s sake, they avoided challenging him.  Moreover, Wayne H. was an unrestrained and impenitent farter.  The singularity of it was not just in the act of farting itself but also in the theatrics that accompanied it:  If he happened to be standing, he would extend his leg forward or stretch it sideways as to give free passage to the gas.  He was unapologetic about it.  A learned man, he contended that farting was a natural phenomenon that, if blocked, could wreak havoc up the duodenum and cause severe colon complications. His prophylaxis against such conditions was free and immediate fart release, never mind the ensuing social malaise.  The only sympathetic ear he had was Raul’s, whose boss he was.  He would engage in casual conversations with Raul, touching on a variety of subjects; and that is how I got to size up his intellect. With Dan’s backing, Wayne H. held on steadfastly to his approach.   He was of the opinion that economies could be achieved through a realignment of the responsibilities on the plant floor.  He had calculated that headcount could be slashed by five.  His view was that such decisions should be made on an objective basis. And that is where I came in.  From the workers’ daily production logs, I had to develop weekly performance reports based on the established standards.  These reports were distributed to management and posted to the factory board at 3:00 O’clock on Friday.
Raul made it a point to involve me in many of his decision processes.  He had had confidence in me since the day he hired me on the recommendation of a friend who worked on the floor.  I was then in transition, having just arrived in the US with a foreign education, and was willing to do anything.  After carefully reviewing my application and inquiring about my goals, he gave me an alternative: be his assistant—an unprotected position where the compensation and growth potential were substantially higher, or a laborer enjoying union protection.  I opted on the spot for the Assistant position.  From that point on, he showed a genuine interest in grooming me into being his right-arm: he let me attend important meetings, confided in me sensitive matters and gave me a certain leeway in the day-to-day operation of the plant office.   Except for a few occasions, I attended his one-on-one with employees to address job related issues, including dismissals—on which occasions I was able to appreciate his tact and dexterity in navigating treacherous waters.  Once he opened up to me on the eve of a firing, the third in a series of five.  “Age”, he said, “softens the heart.  When I was younger, I would fire somebody just like that (snapping his fingers).  Now, whenever I go through that, I am overwhelmed with guilt feeling.”  I could not decipher the meaning of his confession.  Did he fear my judging him cynical and therefore feel compelled to show some semblance of humanity in order to win me over?  Was he being philosophical about the dilemma facing a manager?  Yet one point was very clear to me, that being a manager was not for the faint-hearted.

A week later, Raul briefed me on his next target, Ray M.  He was the senior swiper in a three-man section, which included the group leader.  The plan was that the group leader would be reinstated into the assembly line, losing his supervisory privileges; Ray would be fired and the junior swiper was expected to pick up the slack, thanks to the short learning curve his youth guaranteed.  Over time, Wayne reckoned, there would a net gain in terms of savings and productivity.  As in previous cases, my task was to closely monitor Ray’s performance and submit a daily report on him.  Delicate task indeed, for I had a good rapport with Ray and Raul knew it. That was a scheme of Machiavellian proportions that was at odds with the idealistic and puritanical beliefs my youth and inexperience had harbored thus far.  I was going to be instrumental in the dismissal of a friend.  From that standpoint, how hypocritical would I be to judge Raul! That weekend was the worst one in my short career, as I was confronted with a dilemma over loyalty to a friend and allegiance to a boss.  Caught in that catch-22, I decided to give some hints to a mutual friend who talked Ray into “upping” his performance.  Maybe, I thought, this could abort the operation, or at least delay the inevitable.

The Monday after, Ray came in with renewed energy, acting upon the hints he received from the mutual friend and realizing the urgency of the situation, after further corroboration came from the union representative who was also briefed by Raul.  He was working on special orders that didn’t fit into a pattern or standard.   That’s the problem with standards.  Though a necessity and generally set up in the name of fairness and equity, standards may actually be unfair as regards the unusual aspects of a job.  Making allowances for these special aspects could in effect dilute the standards, or loosen them to a point of being meaningless.  In those cases it is not uncommon to use judgment or other subjective elements to complement the standards.  Ray’s performance to date averaged 75%.  Doing much better than that was a tall order. But somehow he managed to beat the odds day after day that week.  I drew up his daily performance report and apprised Raul of it.  In my naïveté, I truly believed Ray had a chance.  But by Thursday morning it was clear to me that his fate was sealed, as I watched Raul press on the layoff course and while Ray’s energy level went unabated, breaking another personnel and group record.  The tally for that day was a 90% performance.  But on Friday morning, all layoff papers were in order, his last payroll and vacation checks drawn.  By noon, I was instructed not to post the weekly performance report.  Too embarrassing, I thought.  Overall Ray’s performance would have been 90%.  The last 3 hours of that Friday, I watched him take on new assignments, helping on a big order that had to be shipped, sweating through the packing, crating, and loading.  That scene was the most dramatic to me.  I felt like being an accomplice in some kind of nefarious plot.  I could rationalize over the performance issue (too little, too late!).  But I could not fathom why it was necessary to work him to death, knowing that he was minutes away from being fired… He had just finished helping in that area when he was called in.

    “Sorry we’ve come to this point,” Raul said, citing new business realities, economic downturn, management’s new direction and Ray’s inability to cope with these factors.  At the meeting, the foreman, union representative and myself were also in attendance.  At first, Ray was perplexed, as Raul went through the motion explaining that things weren’t working out.  When presented with unemployment forms, Ray feigned utmost confusion.
“What’s all this about?” he asked.
“Your unemployment papers for you to take to the State Office of Labor.  You’ll want to do it sometime next week so you don’t lose any of your benefits,” Raul said.

    “Am I bein’ fired?” Ray asked.
“You’re just being laid off.  When things pick up, you’ll get a call back,” Raul retorted

    “What’s the (expletive) you talkin’ about?  You fire me, after working my (expletive) off all week long?”  Losing his composure and completely irate, he turned to the foreman and the union rep and lashed out, “You guys know how hard I worked all week.  I need to see my weekly report.  I can’t believe you standin’ here and let this guy exploit me like that (sic).  This is blood-sucking exploitation.  This is America not Mexico!”  Ray had to be escorted out, but not before blurting out a tirade of insults.  That these were tainted by a more pronounced French accent than usual perhaps diminished their impact, but not much was lost in translation, as I would later find out.

      The tempest had subsided, when Wayne walked in, visibly in fact finding mode.  Reclining in his chair, Raul turned to him and burst out laughing, ”I can’t believe he called me a communist and told me to go back to my country!”  Ironically, Ray was from a foreign country with an uncertain residency status, while Raul was third-generation Mexican-American.  I couldn’t help laughing as well.  Raul and Wayne H. exchanged a few pleasantries and looked briefly ahead to the week after.  Then Wayne H. retired for the weekend. 

A heavy silence set in thereafter.  As if to break the ice, Raul turned towards me:
“Something to grow on, don’t you agree?” he said.
I smiled.  I felt like saying this old Haitian proverb:  “God’s pencil has no eraser.”  In other words, once the firing order is made, it is a fait accompli, it cannot be retracted. Then, in his relaxed signature manner, reclining in his chair and puffing up circles of aromated cigar smoke, all the while looking at me,
“Any plans for the weekend?” he asked.
“First and foremost I need a drink!”  I replied.

He burst into a hearty laughter, upon which we separated.

Echoes of a Send-off

When they became aware of my resignation from my last job, a group of colleagues thought it was a good idea to gather an evening after work at a bar to bid me farewell and send me off under the best auspices.  A cross-spectrum of the organization, the group was comprised of an executive, a director (my boss), two of my peers and three from my staff.  Their background was diverse as well: two African Americans, an Italian, an Irish, a Barbadian, a Jamaican, a Polish.  I was very appreciative of the fact that they acknowledged my work and the rapport I was able to establish with all levels of the organization during my two-and-a-half-year tenure.  For, in the life of an organization, two and a half years is just a wink.


There was a nice ambiance, where we exchanged our experiences, reminisced over past challenges and successes.   Eventually, the conversation drifted toward the informal, after a few rounds of beer mugs, margaritas, and what not!   The juke box came to play a selection of Bob Marley.  Immediately, the conversation shifted to this world-renowned Jamaican artist.  It was reported that his remains would be disinterred from Jamaica to be entombed in Ethiopia.  My Jamaican colleague was incensed and cried foul.  It was a conspiracy to deprive her country of its national treasure.  There was no reason, she argued, to remove Marley’s remains from Jamaica’s soil, which witnessed his birth, nurtured him, and afforded him the springboard to reach his zenith. And now they wanted to dispossess her country of its most celebrated artist.  (Never mind that in this case the culprit was Ethiopia, another Third World country!)  As a Haitian who knows one thing or two about attempts to muffle small countries’ accomplishments, I sympathized with my fellow islander.  For sure, Marley is a star of international stature.  But the vehicle that made his talent known and appreciated the world over is very much indigenous to the Jamaican culture and way of life.  The vernacular in which he expresses his ideas and the Reggae rhythm, among other things, are distinctive marks of his Jamaican lineage.   And nothing suggests that he would find the Jamaican soil or people unworthy of his remains.   Unlike many artists who, once they reach the pinnacle of their art and stardom status, distance themselves from their place of upbringing, he did not turn away from his country and his compatriots in time of need. Case in point–When Jamaica was polarized by the bitter premiership race opposing the socialist incumbent Prime Minister Michael Manley to the right-ring challenger Edward Seaga (backed by the Reagan Administration) and violence threatened to rip the country apart, Marley rose above the fray to broker peace between the two factions.  It was his “One Love Peace Concert” featuring a handshake between the two candidates on stage that quelled the violence–which by the way nearly took his life fifteen months earlier and caused him to flee to London.  Marley had all the reasons to sever his ties with his country of birth.  Instead, he chose to reaffirm those ties, put his art to work to its benefit and, thus, saved it from degradation.  This magnanimous act testified to his love for Jamaica.  So, his remains belong and should stay there.


Bob Marley is first and foremost Jamaican.  But he belongs to universal patrimony as well.  His artistry, undeniably, draws international acclaim.   His powerful lyrics transcend national boundaries and resonate beyond cultural confines.   Marley belongs in the select group of artists who tap into what the German anthropologist Carl Gustav Jung calls the “collective unconscious” to render an image or convey a message that echoes the sentiments of a cross-section of the human species.  Great works of art—literary, pictorial, musical, sculptural or otherwise—are those that escape the realm of the artist’s personal inspiration or meaning to enter the universal domain, where a communion exists between the public and the artist to a point where the public sees itself not just a spectator but also a participant in the act of creation or re-creation.  This re-creation process may even take the public to a sphere unknown to the artist or unforeseen by him at the inception of his work.  Far from being diminished, his art comes out richer as it is not limited in space or time.  The artist thus becomes a medium or catalyst for human emotions, a conduit to universal creativity.  


This communion between public and artist is exemplified by Marley’s song “No Woman No Cry”.  Almost each one at the table had a take on it.  Marley was a philanderer, one said; he wrote the song, while in England, to reassure his wife of his commitment to their relationship, despite his amorous escapades. For somebody else, the song was written on the passing of a friend to sooth his devastated widow.  Another opinion was that the song was an ode to Jamaica itself.  Someone else alluded to the “weed” he idolized.  For me, this song is indelibly linked to a documentary on the “Soweto Massacre” perpetrated in June 1976 on black South African schoolchildren marching to protest new rules imposing the use of Afrikaans, Apartheid South Africa’s official language, in the educational system of their township.  Some two hundred children were gunned down, another four hundred injured by live bullets fired by the police in this savage act that showed Apartheid’s true colors.  The poignancy of the moment was encapsulated in the spectacle of a woman kneeling in the middle of the road, holding the inert body of a child in his blood-stained school uniform, her face turned toward the sky as if to hold God witness or accountable to the horrible act.
The image was all the more dramatic that it was filmed in slow motion, capturing the minute details of the woman’s teary face and her lips muttering inaudible words that could only be deciphered as “Why?”  Fittingly, in the background “No Woman No Cry” was playing, Marley lending a voice to the fallen body, comforting the grief-stricken woman and prophesizing “Everything’s gonna be all right.”

“No Woman No Cry” is striking by its ambivalence.  On the one hand, it is a mourning cry over the feminine condition, over the plight of women as front-line victims of the heavy-handed tactics of the enemies of societal change.  It reminds them that life is a struggle, a rite of passage, where adepts fall along the way under the watchful eyes of the hypocrites.  Yet, it is also a coronation of women as mothers of change, rallying them around the cause they espoused alongside their men and exhorting them to “keep on pushing through”—so that the sacrifices and privations they endured are not vain.  “Don’t shed no tears! Everything’s gonna be all right!”


This song is dedicated to those mothers, wives, daughters who have had or will have the difficult task of burying their loved ones, fallen prematurely in pursuit of a dream larger than life.   


“No Woman No Cry”

Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, slain civil rights leader

Myrlie Evers, widow of Medgar Evers, slain civil rights leader

Betty Shabbazz, widow of Malcom X, slain civil rights leader

Mamie Till, mother of Emmett Till, African American teen killed in the segregated South

Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert Kennedy, slain American presidential candidate

Isabel Allende, daughter of Chilean President Savador Allende killed in a coup d’etat

Pauline Lumumba, widow of Patrice Lumumba, First Prime Minister of Congo, executed

And all those unknown mothers, whose sons perished from death penalty for crimes they did not commit.

Saved By The Tears–Hillary’s New Hampshire Epiphany

    It is well known that Hillary Clinton has a powerful weapon in the person of her husband, former President Bill Clinton.  He is her weapon of choice to redress her campaign, if alarming signs of slippage were evident.  The charismatic Bill would promptly come to the rescue, use his proverbial charms and do the trick.  Voila!  With such a weapon, it was easy to think of Hillary’s nomination as inevitable.  However, the Iowa Caucuses last January 3rd proved smooth sailing to the Democratic Convention was not going to be for Hillary.  She came in third in Iowa behind Barack Obama by a margin as large as 9 percent and John Edwards.



    That stunning loss put a dent into the myth of her invincibility and seemed a harbinger of bad times to come.  In New Hampshire, the huge lead The New York senator had enjoyed all along evaporated so drastically that by the weekend before the primaries she was reportedly trailing Obama.  The prediction, just hours before the first vote was cast, was that the Illinois senator would benefit from the Iowa bounce and win in a landslide.  Such a prospect led to the fatidic question to Hillary:  “How do you feel?” That was more than the “steely” former First Lady could endure.  Her voice softened.  And her eyes sank in a pool of tears!  Thus came into being a new weapon in Hillary’s arsenal:  the tears.



    What Bill Clinton’s magic, negative campaigning, her much touted experience could not do, the tears did!  Obama’s rushing waves were finally contained!  In effect, sensing the danger confronting one of their own, women flocked to Hillary’s rescue and helped secure her victory.  Although the spread was a mere 2% (39% to 37%), the win was deemed spectacular, as she climbed up from a 13 percent deficit.  The question is:  Will the sympathy/solidarity/teary vote contain for good the high tidal waves of the Obama phenomenon?  Will Hillary take advantage of this 15 percent swing to focus her campaign on the popular demand for change?



    Hillary and her team were quick to downplay the teary moment, crediting instead her having “found (her) own voice” for her reversal of fortune.  Some voters let believe that experience was the factor influencing their ballot not the tears; the press backed that up with some polls.  (Journalists still haven’t learned from polls—did they really expect the respondents would acknowledge that they were influenced by the tears?)  That Team Hillary denied the impact of the tears suggests that they will revert to the string of negative campaigning of days past.  Let us recall the repeated calls to “vet” Obama, the allegations of drug dealing or ties to Fundamental Islam.  Let us also recall the egregious behavior of a prominent supporter of Hillary’s, Bob Kerrey, repeatedly pointing at a rally to Obama’s middle name, Hussain, in a deliberate attempt to inject fear into the race and torpedo Obama’s bid.  To date, Hillary has not repudiated Kerrey’s action.  None of that worked in Iowa, though:  Iowans don’t buy into the mud slinging practice of traditional politics.  The indication is that Hillary will resurrect these tactics to hammer away at Obama.  Team Clinton has a solid reputation in this regard.  To show for it, Bill and Hillary are conducting surgical assaults at Obama’s credentials, hoping that none of that backfires…



    The mantra of Hillary’s campaign is her 35-years experience.  (Thirty-five years?  Was she co-governor?  Co-president?  Are records available to substantiate such claims?)  Anyway, for her much vaunted experience, I am afraid Senator Clinton does not have much to offer. Two things readily come to mind when it comes to her experience:  health care reform and the Iraq war.  On both counts, she was on the losing side.  Her health care reform never made it through Congress, as it was perceived, not as a collaborative effort, but as the elucubration of an arrogant technocrat pontificating from an ivory tower.  On Iraq, she voted for President Bush’s resolution to invade that country and had been in lockstep with him on every single issue relating to that war, until the tide started to turn against him just a year ago.  The Iraq War has had a most significant impact on our life in terms of human, monetary and diplomatic cost.  And she never genuinely acknowledged her mistake, nor ever did George Bush. 



    Experience does matter.  It presumes depth and gravitas, though not guaranteeing any.  But it must be viewed in the context of performance and accomplishments.  Secondly, to be impactful in a positive way and lead to sound decision-making, it must be supported by judgment.  Experience, still, is not the overarching issue in this campaign.  If it were, the Democratic campaign would be now a three-way race among Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson.  They all prevail of greater experience than Hillary.  Obama himself could put a spin on his combined State and US Senate terms to boast of more legislative experience than Hillary:  he has been a senator for three terms–two in the Illinois State Senate and one in the US Senate, while she has been a senator for only 2 terms.  Good decision-making involves the judicious mix of experience and judgment.  The judgment displayed in a situation of such magnitude as going to war on Iraq does not augur sound political decision by a President Hillary Clinton.  By contrast, Obama showed courage in 2002 in his speech against the war at the Federal in Chicago.  It took fortitude to denounce George Bush’s folly, at a time when the president was at the pinnacle of his popularity.  The easy road for Obama was to ride, like many, Bush’s coattails.  But he chose otherwise at the risk of being labeled anti-patriotic.  That’s the mark of character, gravitas, judgment.  That Iraq turns out to be a catastrophic experiment in preemptive strike is testimony to Obama’s superior judgment.  Indeed, judgment is at the heart of the issue.  Whose judgment would you trust when confronted with a situation of monumental consequence for the citizens of this country?  Recently, as if she has not learned from her “alliance” with George Bush, she again followed him on his resolution on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, equating them to a terrorist organization.  One more time, she gave Bush ammunition, as he is methodically building his case for military action against Iran.  The markings are on the wall for sometime before the end of his term to engage in some kind of military confrontation with Iran, as a way to boost the Republicans’ credentials on defense and rally public opinion around their nominee.  If there is one constant about George Bush, it is his loyalty:  he will do it for the Party.  Behold!



    In the meantime, Senator Clinton ratchets up her rhetoric against Senator Obama.  During her teary moment, Hillary lamented:  “I don’t want to see the country go backwards…  We need to reverse it”.  This statement has yet to be dissected.  But it is profound.  What exactly does she mean by that?  At best, it is ambiguous.  Is it the true voice she claimed to have found?  Is this her true feeling that Obama is not qualified to be president?  What accomplishments can she boast of, which would make her this presumptuous? How would the country go backwards with Democratic Nominee Obama or President Obama?  Fear tactics again, as it were.  Did South Africa go backwards after it elected Nelson Mandela president—a man who had never held an elected office and whose experience was embedded in the 27 years he spent in the Robben Island jails?     America would truly be the beacon of hope and opportunity that it purports to be by entrusting the first African American with the highest elected office on the land.  For some reason, this whole episode brings to mind the Chicago mayoral primary between Jane Byrne and the African American Congressman Harold Washington in 1983.   It was a bitter race punctuated by Byrne’s defeat.  It was so hard for Byrne to digest that she had refused to concede to Washington, “Too close to call” she would be saying.  Clinton’s inference in that statement is reminiscent of Jane Byrne’s condescension vis-a-vis Washington.  There was no doubt that she and others felt that Washington’s election was ominous of Chicago’s degradation, loss of clout as a US premier city.  By all indication, history will judge it differently.


    I said a few months ago that the Democratic campaign between these two Affirmative Action heavyweights (Clinton and Obama) had the potential of a derby, with the fervor and excitement it implied.  “The question is”, I said, “how much of a departure will it be from the circus of platitudes, gratuitous bashing that has characterized presidential politics thus far?”  It is fair to say that Hillary’s conduct of her race shows in no way a departure from old politics.  It is a perpetuation of the smear tactics cherished by the Republicans.  As such her bid will be rejected by the American electorate.  And no tears will be able to save her!

Originally published 1/18/08

The 2008 Presidential Election–A Race within a Race


    The race for the ultimate job in the nation started in earnest.  This race is most singular in that the traditional tenets of American politics are being challenged in ways that, for the first time, may cost them the White House.  The challenge is led by none other than… Affirmative Action.  Ironically, after enduring the assaults of the Bush Administration and suffering notable defeats in recent court cases, Affirmative Action is poised to score its greatest victory yet.



    Indeed, Affirmative Action has acquired its “lettres de noblesse”, becoming a force to reckon with in presidential politics.  No longer can its representatives be dismissed as “campaign spoilers”, opportunists or demagogues devoid of political substance.  This election will have a place worthy of the highest interest in the annals of the country.   The Democratic Primary is where the excitement will be, as it showcases a race within a race:  three of affirmative action’s progeny—Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson– are in contention for the Democratic nomination.  It is worth noting that the “minority” that has benefited the most from Affirmative Action is hard at work to extend its success to the political arena.  Early indications suggest that that “minority” capitalizes on such factors as name recognition, media savvy to assert itself as the alternative to end white men’s dominance over the electoral process in the United States.  Of course, I am talking about… white women and their representative, Hillary Clinton.  The New York senator proves to be a formidable adversary to her affirmative action sibling, the African American Illinois Senator Barack Obama, as she leads in the polls even in African American circles.  This campaign between these two Affirmative Action heavyweights has the potential of a derby.  The question is how much of a departure it will to be from the circus of platitudes, gratuitous bashing that has characterized presidential politics thus far.



    The polls reveal the hard reality confronting Obama.  While his popularity has skyrocketed nationwide, he is nonetheless ranking a distant second to Hillary Clinton in his own black community.  I hear a number of reasons for that: (1) Obama’s lack of experience—according to some, he should target the vice-presidency instead; (2) Blacks’ wariness of the embarrassment another failed black candidacy would cause; (3) Obama’s lack of connection with the African-American experience, being the product of an African father and white American mother; (4) Blacks’ affection for Bill Clinton.  It is reassuring that Obama was not deterred by these concerns and chose to enter the race.  Not seizing the moment, to paraphrase Charles Rangel (Democratic representative of New York, himself a supporter of Hillary in her bid for the Senate), he wouldn’t have anybody to blame but himself. Besides, what does he have to lose?  Still the question lingers:  Should he have run?



    No one disputes the fact that experience matters.  However, it does not necessarily translate into electibility, nor is a pre-requisite for sound judgment. If experience is the litmus test to determine who the next nominee should be, Robert Byrd, the nonagenarian senator from Virginia, should be the Democratic nominee.  History is on Obama’s side, by the way.  Abraham Lincoln’s experience was limited to his eight years in the Illinois legislature and to a one-term seat as a U.S. House Representative seat, yet he went on to be one of the prominent figures in American presidency. Experience does not guarantee sound judgment either.  Hillary Clinton, for all her experience and her much vaunted smarts, signed on to the Iraq war.  She was unshakable in her belief that that war was a just one… until recently when the tides started to turn and it is becoming more and more obvious what a horrific blunder it was to embark on that adventure.  Her hawkish stand tainted her image and makes her George Bush’s accomplice in this debacle that cost us so far over half a trillion dollars, over 3200 American deaths, 25000 American wounded, maimed, amputated, disfigured, psychologically impaired; in addition to 600000+ Iraqi deaths (Johns Hopkins University survey, cited in 10/11/06 Washington Post), two million Iraqi refugees and another million and a half internally displaced.  All that because of a LIE!  Bush’s reckless behavior qualifies for indictment for crime against humanity.  Unfortunately for the former First Lady, she is inextricably embroiled in that controversy Hillary.  She would hope to erase from collective memory the fact that among the democrats she and Lieberman were Bush’s staunchest allies on Iraq.  But that is the crux of her vulnerability. In contrast Obama stood erect against the war from the outset—a testimony to sound judgment capability.



    Secondly, there is a contention that the black community is not prepared to deal with another failed bid for the White House, alluding to unsuccessful runs by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.  Such attempts should not be considered a futile exercise, let alone a source of embarrassment.  If anything, they blazed a trail, set off a germination process that would eventually come to fruition by way of viable candidacies.  In keeping with their militant background, Jackson and Sharpton brought another dimension into the political discourse.  They entered those races not with the hope of winning the nomination, but rather with the intent of energizing the black electorate and wielding its political leverage.  They positioned themselves as gatekeepers to its aspirations and desiderata. They were the power brokers, who would “deliver” the black vote to worthy white Democratic candidates.  Over the years, political alliances and relationships have developed between African American leaders and the Democratic “machine”.  The Obama candidacy, if anything, calls for a redefinition of these relationships and alliances.  In contrast to past black candidacies, he is adding a cross-over factor and straddles a broader spectrum of the electorate, which for the first time makes a black candidate a serious contender.  A number of the black leaders are caught flat-footed by the meteoric rise of Obama in the political consciousness of the nation.  They now face a dilemma: endorsing Obama or endorsing a mainstream candidate in keeping with past allegiances but at the risk of exposing themselves to sell-out criticisms.  Obama will need to reach out to these leaders and reassure them of his willingness to continue the fight they have been leading.


 
    This becomes all the more urgent that some of the black constituents question Obama’s connection to the African American experience.  A significant segment of the black community doesn’t feel that he has the credentials to represent them.  The fact that he is so much adulated by white folks makes them even suspicious. While it is hard to fathom that the fervor and excitement that the Obama campaign has generated across the nation has not permeated the black community, one should try to understand it rather than attach a label to it.  The tough love message that transpires from Obama’s discourse is unparalleled in the sphere of black politics.  African Americans are used to hearing their political leaders or firebrand activists absolve them and, rather, blame the political establishment, historical factors and endemic racism for everything happening in their lives.  Obama’s message seems to depart from this pattern but, rather, force African Americans to look introspectively and take ownership of their shortcomings.  This novel approach does not quite resonate in the psyche of black America.   Let’s remember that Bill Cosby drew the ire of a large sector of the black community for making similar comments.  Obama will have to guard himself against any paternalistic tendencies and to acknowledge that powerful extraneous forces, the existing socio-economic structures indeed contribute to the disenfranchisement of black America.  Obama is himself a success story.  He should guard himself from “rubbing it” in the nose of African Americans, because his circumstances were much different.  He needs to understand it, as Bill Clinton did.


Bill Clinton was able to connect with black America’s psyche.  That is why they are so enamored with him, and why he earned the nickname of “first black president”–though his politics had not necessarily been markedly pro-black.  It is true that his administration appointed more blacks to cabinet level positions than was ever the case.  However, he didn’t flinch from sacking some of them when they got in trouble (Dr. Jocelyn Elder).  Still he has a way of making black folk feel at ease, which brought him their affection. Understandably, their love for Bill rubs off on Hillary.  But there is no evidence that politically Hillary and Bill are two interchangeable entities.   Whether the political course she charters for herself intersects Bill’s approach to governance remains to be seen.  Would she be governing from the center, as Bill did?  Will she make the same mistake as Gore by not involving Bill in her campaign, judging him a political liability?  On that point, I suspect she will use him selectively.  As regards the black community, Bill will be her secret weapon—if she appears to lose ground.



    Some express the view that Obama should settle for the vice-presidency, suggesting that, as a freshman senator, he is aiming too high.  The vice-presidency would give him a chance to hone his skills and mature into the post.  I fail to see how viable that option is.  A ticket with Hillary would be disastrous, as it would not sell in the South or conservative circles in the nation.  An Edwards-Obama ticket somehow doesn’t have the feel of right chemistry.  (In contrast, an Obama-Edwards would probably have some appeal.)  Some in the black community say outrightly  that the country is not ready for a black president.  America is ready for a change.  The form that change will take has yet to be determined.  The apathy or marked disdain toward the electoral process, which translates into low turnout, crystallizes a yearning for an alternative.  That is where the opportunity lies for Obama.  This is his defining moment.  The moment for him to decide, while in open position to take the shot, whether he should or just play it safe and defer to a seasoned player.  This is the moment for him to check his guts.  At this juncture, I cannot help but draw a parallel between him and Michael Jordan.



    What was Michael Jordan’s defining moment as a basketball player?  One might think of the many winning shots he made for the Bulls, or the three championships he won in heir jersey.  To me, it was the final seconds of the 1982 NCAA championship game against the mighty Georgetown Hoyas of Patrick Ewing, Sleepy Floyd, Fred Brown.  It was that shot he made as a freshman that crowned North Carolina the NCAA champion.  Suffice to say that when he elevated to take the shot, the championship was on the line—as the game clock was winding down with 17 seconds to go and Georgetown was leading 62-61.  It was a shot he was NOT supposed to take as a freshman.  It wasn’t an easy lay-up or a break-away dunk!  It was a 15-foot jumper from the right corner with Sleepy Floyd (as I remember) leaping forward to block.  When he jumped and let go of the ball, everybody was in disbelief because James Worthy, the star player, and Sam Perkins, were the ones entrusted with the responsibility for such shots.  If it was not for that shot Michael Jordan would most probably not have had the career he had. That shot destined him to greatness.  From the young Jordan, we learn that it takes three things to make a winner–Timing, Talent, Guts. If you have a clear shot, the talent and the guts to take it, go for it! So, go for it, Obama!



    Affirmative Action has changed the face of American politics.  Its challenge is to change its soul–a soul lost to odious personal attacks, mean-spirited thrashing, and deliberate lies and misrepresentations.  Affirmative Action also has a chance to elevate the scene of American politics to the higher ground of civility, decency and authenticity.  It is up to Obama, Hillary and Richardson to make it happen.  Should they succeed, it could just be their most enduring victory—win or lose…


 Originally published 3/23/07