Saturday, August 30, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad

My Dad was -- and remains -- my hero, even though he was oh, so human. He was far from perfect. He could be argumentative, stubborn, opinionated, and occasionally prejudiced. He probably drank more than he should have (although in almost 47 years, I saw him "drunk" only once--at my oldest brother's wedding rehearsal dinner--and his personal habits surely didn't shorten his life significantly). He could be mean, though rarely (if ever) was he mean to me.

But he came to the US from Ireland in 1922 at the age of eleven (that's his passport picture on the right), and worked for the next 74 years. He worked two, sometimes three jobs at a time. He loved my mother, to whom he was married 56 years when she died in 1998. And he gave his children everything he didn't have when he was growing up--including a father.

He was the hardest working, most self-sacrificing man I've ever known. He died June 28, 2001, just a few weeks short of his 90th birthday. I miss you, Dad. And I love you still.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Democratic National Convention, Night Four

I am on record in this blog for the high regard in which I hold former Vice President Al Gore. Even so, I will not dwell on his address this afternoon at he DNC in Mile High Stadium, Denver. The fact is that, as brilliant and principled as this man is, he is not an inspiring speaker. Nor is his writing (if his speeches are self-written) particularly literary. He should have been President the last eight years. He wasn't. And I'm moving on, although I will give you the option of listening to his speech and making your own judgments.

The story of the day, of course, is Barack Obama's acceptance speech. Suffice it to say that it was one of the best examples -- probably THE best example -- of political oratory of my lifetime -- that's 54 years for anyone who is curious.

Before I go any further, let me say that I love my right-wing friend Howie. I love him with everything in me. He is my oldest friend, and my most steadfast friend. When a great deal of poop hit the fan in my life and other people who I had known for twenty or thirty or forty years walked away or simply disappeared, Howie was there. And there were no questions, there was no need for explanations. Howie was there.

I need to say this because I am about to beat up and bloody Howie (in a political, philosophical way) in much the same way that Barack Obama beat up and bloodied John McCain tonight.

First, some predictions: the following right-wing memes are now obsolete, totally politically useless, and will not be heard any further, from this day forward, from the official GOP or McCain campaigns (which is not to say that Howie and his ilk will not keep harping on these adolescent themes) -- Obama doesn't have the stomach to fight a Presidential campaign, Obama is nothing more than a "celebrity," Obama is "unpatriotic" or doesn't put his "country first," Obama is a lightweight, Obama doesn't have the experience (or "the stuff") to be President, Obama has no real plan (both this speech and the recent New York Times Magazine article on Obama's economic plans should put that one to rest), Obama is a "socialist," Obama will raise your taxes ("your" referring to the majority of Americans, the middle class), and that Democrats are "soft" on terrorism. After tonight, I honestly don't think any of these will fly anymore (as Bill Clinton would say, "that dog won't hunt") with the American people, or at least all but the most jaded, cynical, hard-core, neo-conservative, right wing Republicans like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and Howie.

Barack Obama stood up to all of this, and called it what it was -- BULLSHIT -- although he said it more gently than that. But the message was clear, as was its meaning.

Of the last eight years, he had a one word summary:
Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land - enough!
Of John McCain's public relations campaign to portray himself as a "maverick":

Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. And next week, we'll also hear about those occasions when he's broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

But the record's clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time? I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a ten percent chance on change.

On the overall GOP ideology of personal responsibility and self-sufficiency:

For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy - give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is - you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps - even if you don't have boots. You're on your own.

Well it's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change America.

On Obama's supposed "celebrity":

The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great - a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight.

Because in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton's Army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.

In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships.

When I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by and fought for two decades ago after the local steel plant closed.

And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle-management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She's the one who taught me about hard work. She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she's watching tonight, and that tonight is her night as well.

I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as President of the United States.

Obama went on to outline more than two dozen specific policies he will try to put into place when he becomes President. I will not post them here. There is literally not enough space, nor do I have the time (nor, with these new technologies, is it even necessary -- you can listen to his speech yourself) for me to go into that much detail.

But I just wanted to point out that there was literally not one single McCain campaign issue (McCain's campaign so far has been frighteningly short of serious issues) that Barack Obama did not both address and defuse. If I were a Republican, or their nominee for President, I'd be worried -- because all my ammunition is spent.

Oh, and I see this headline from FOX as I'm finishing up this post:

Gustav May Postpone Dates of Republican National Convention
Forecasters warn it's 'too soon to tell'

God does indeed sometimes move in mysterious ways...


Forty-five years ago today, as Barack Obama prepares to make history by accepting the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, a prophet for our time was given to us who held up a mirror in which we could see ourselves, our goodness, our weaknesses, and our ugliness.

Forty years ago, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his last major speech, a speech that many (myself included) consider prophetic.

The next day, April 4, 1968, Rev. King was murdered in Memphis, Tennesee by James Earl Ray.

NY Senator Robert Francis Kennedy was campaigning for the Democratic Presidential nomination in Indianapolis, IN, when word of King's murder arose.

Less than six months later, he, too, would be dead.

In a sermon called "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution" given at the National Cathedral in Washington less than a week before he was killed, Rev. King presented us with his last moral challenge, a challenge to which Americans have not yet risen.

Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured. John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: "No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." And he goes on toward the end to say, "Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." We must see this, believe this, and live by it if we are to remain awake through a great revolution...

We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty.

In the space of five years, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy were taken from us. JFK was an anti-Communist cold-warrier who grew in office to be the kind of President who could see the need for civil rights and an end to an unjust war; King was a prophet and a warrior for peace -- America's Gandhi -- who stood racial stereotypes on their head and brought people together; Bobby was the hope of a new generation of Americans. When they died, the sixties died, and hope was, for many Americans, shattered. But the hope never died, and lives today.

It is only my opinion -- one man's opinion, one imperfect, idealistic man's opinion -- but I believe that in many ways Barack Obama embodies the charisma and judgment of JFK, the hope and determination of MLK, and the Heart and judgement of RFK. And tonight, a significant portion of the American people are prepared to nominate him as their political leader.

May God keep him safe from the rest.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Democratic National Convention, Night Three

Clinton: "Barack Obama is ready to lead America, and to restore American leadership in the world."

While perhaps lacking the drama and dynamism of the first two nights, there was still a great deal of substance on night #3 of the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Bill Clinton gracefully and eloquently accepted the anticlimactic aspect of his address to the convention (his wife, NY Senator and former Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton had pretty much made the speech of the week the previous night, and in prime time, while the former President was relegated to an earlier, pre-prime time slot --about 8:00 pm eastern time, 7:00 pm central time), and forcefully avowed his support for the candidacy of Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

Clinton took it to the Republicans hard and inside, hitting them on what has been, for the last two deacdes, their signature issue, but in the context of the harsh realities of life in 21st century America under GOP rule:

I will never forget the parents of children with autism and other serious conditions who told me on the campaign trail that they couldn't afford health care and couldn't qualify their children for Medicaid unless they quit work and starved or got a divorce.

Are these the family values the Republicans are so proud of?

Clinton isssued an indictment of GOP incompetence, and likewise indicted McCain for endorsing and proposing continued neo-conservative policies:

The choice is clear. The Republicans in a few days will nominate a good man who has served our country heroically and who suffered terribly in a Vietnamese prison camp. He loves his country every bit as much as we do. As a senator, he has shown his independence of right-wing orthodoxy on some very important issues.

But on the two great questions of this election -- how to rebuild the American dream and how to restore America's leadership in the world -- he still embraces the extreme philosophy that has defined his party for more than 25 years.

And it is, to be fair to all the Americans who aren't as hard-core Democrats as we, it's a philosophy the American people never actually had a chance to see in action fully until 2001, when the Republicans finally gained control of both the White House and the Congress.

Then we saw what would happen to America if the policies they had talked about for decades actually were implemented. And look what happened.

They took us from record surpluses to an exploding debt; from over 22 million new jobs to just 5 million; from increasing working families' incomes to nearly $7,500 a year to a decline of more than $2,000 a year; from almost 8 million Americans lifted out of poverty to more than 5.5 million driven into poverty; and millions more losing their health insurance.

Now, in spite of all this evidence, their candidate is actually promising more of the same.

Think about it: more tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that will swell the deficit, increase inequality, and weaken the economy; more Band-Aids for health care that will enrich insurance companies, impoverish families, and increase the number of uninsured; more going it alone in the world, instead of building the shared responsibilities and shared opportunities necessary to advance our security and restore our influence.

They actually want us to reward them for the last eight years by giving them four more.

Kind of sounds like the last four years of this blog, doesn't it?

Joe Biden was off his rhythm tonight, it must be said. I've seen him speak, and know him to be a much more effective orator than he was tonight.

But still, he landed some punches and made some important points. He made them , to be sure, with respect:

You know, John McCain is my friend. And I know you hear that phrase used all the time in politics. I mean it. John McCain is my friend. We've traveled the world together. It's a friendship that goes beyond politics. And the personal courage and heroism demonstrated by John still amazes me.


But I profoundly -- I profoundly disagree with the direction John wants to take this
country, from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Amtrak to veterans.

And he didn't leave it at that:

You know, John thinks -- John thinks that, during the Bush years, quote, "We've made great economic progress." I think it's been abysmal. And in the Senate, John has voted with President Bush 95 percent. And that is very hard to believe.

And when John McCain proposes $200 million in new taxes for corporate America, $1 billion alone for the largest companies in the nation -- but no, none, no relief for 100 million American families, that's not change. That's more of the same.


Even today, as oil companies post the biggest profits in history, nearly $500 billion in the last five years, John wants to give them another $4 billion in tax breaks. That's not change. That's the same.

And during the same time, John voted again and again against renewable energy, solar, wind, biofuels. That's not change. That's more of the same. Millions of Americans have seen their jobs go off-shore, yet John continues to support tax breaks for corporations that send them there. That's not change. That's more of the same.

He voted 19 times against the minimum wage for people who are struggling just to make it to the next day. That's not change. That's more of the same.

And when he says he'll continue to spend $10 billion a month, when the Iraqis have a surplus of nearly $80 billion, that's not change. That's more of the same.

The choice in the election is clear. These times require more than a good soldier. They require a wise leader. A leader who can change, change -- the change that everybody knows we need.

Like I said, tonight lacked the drama that the previous two nights had. Bill Clinton's speech, while persuasive and professional, was anti-climactic coming, as it did, on the heels of his wife's speech last night. And Joe Biden, perhaps because he is the newest addition to the Obama team, was not fully on his game.

But this convention so far bodes no good for the GOP (it is safe to say that much of the last eight years bodes very little good for the GOP).

God bless America.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Democratic National Convention, Night Two

Hillary: "No way, no how, no McCain."

Tonight was Hillary's night at DNC '08 -- her night to shine, but also her night to be put to the test of Party loyalty. As a Hillary Clinton fan, but not a supporter, as someone who had the privilege to vote for her as my Senator when I lived in NY in 2000, but at first supported Edwards, and then Obama, I have to say she acquitted herself tonight well, if not perfectly.

This was her night for "catharsis" -- letting her supporters grieve for their dream deferred -- but also for proving herself a Democrat. She certainly allowed for the grief, and thanked her supporters for their fierce, intense, and, perhaps, fanatic loyalty. But then she pushed them to the edge and demanded that they prove their loyalty to her by falling in line behind the inevitable Democratic nominee, Barack Obama.

She posed the question to her supporters as a personal challenge:

I want you -- I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me, or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him? Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids?

Were you in it for that young boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage?

Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?

We need leaders once again who can tap into that special blend of American confidence and optimism that has enabled generations before us to meet our toughest challenges, leaders who can help us show ourselves and the world that with our ingenuity, creativity, and innovative spirit, there are no limits to what is possible in


Now, this will not be easy. Progress never is. But it will be impossible if we don't fight to put a Democrat back into the White House.


We need to elect Barack Obama, because we need a president who understands that America can't compete in the global economy by padding the pockets of energy speculators while ignoring the workers whose jobs have been shipped overseas. We need a president who understands we can't solve the problems of global warming by giving windfall profits to the oil companies while ignoring opportunities to invest in the new technologies that will build a green economy. We need a president who understands that the genius of America has always depended on the strength and vitality of the middle class.

Barack Obama began his career fighting for workers displaced by the global economy. He built his campaign on a fundamental belief that change in this country must start from the ground up, not the top down.


And he knows that government must be about "we the people," not "we the favored few."

And when Barack Obama is in the White House, he'll revitalize our economy, defend the working people of America, and meet the global challenges of our times.

Democrats know how to do this. As I recall, we did it before with President Clinton and the Democrats.


And if we do our part, we'll do it again with President Obama and the Democrats.


She then confronted the irrational notion that Hillary Supporters might strike a blow in her name, and in the name of feminism, by not voting for Barack Obama, but for John McCain, while at the same time undergutting the Republican candidate's tendency to exploit Clinton's primary season attacks on the presumptive Democratic nominee:

Now, John McCain is my colleague and my friend. He has served our country with honor and courage. But we don't need four more years of the last eight years...


Senator Clinton: ... more economic stagnation and less affordable health care...


Senator Clinton: ... more high gas prices and less alternative energy...


Senator Clinton: ... more jobs getting shipped overseas and fewer jobs created here at home...


Senator Clinton: ... more skyrocketing debt, and home foreclosures, and mounting bills that are crushing middle-class families...


Senator Clinton: ... more war and less diplomacy...


Senator Clinton: ... more of a government where the privileged few come first and everyone else comes last.


Senator Clinton: Well, John McCain says the economy is fundamentally sound. John McCain doesn't think 47 million people without health insurance is a crisis. John McCain wants to privatize Social Security. And in 2008, he still thinks it's OK when women don't earn equal pay for equal work.


Now, with an agenda like that, it makes perfect sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities, because these days they're awfully hard to tell apart.


She ended with a stirring exhortation which could be read in two ways: 1] as a call to action for the 2008 Presidential campaign, and 2] as a call to her supporters to "keep the powder dry" for either 2012 or 2016:

I'm a United States senator because, in 1848, a group of courageous women, and a few brave men, gathered in Seneca Falls, New York, many traveling for days and nights...


... to participate in the first convention on women's rights in our history. And so dawned a struggle for the right to vote that would last 72 years, handed down by mother to daughter to granddaughter, and a few sons and grandsons along the way.
These women and men looked into their daughters' eyes and imagined a fairer and freer world and found the strength to fight, to rally, to picket, to endure ridicule and harassment, and brave violence and jail.

And after so many decades, 88 years ago on this very day, the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, became enshrined in our Constitution.


My mother was born before women could vote. My daughter got to vote for her mother for president. This is the story of America, of women and men who defy the odds and never give up.

So how do we give this country back to them? By following the example of a brave New Yorker, a woman who risked her lives to bring slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

On that path to freedom, Harriet Tubman had one piece of advice: "If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there's shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going."


And even in the darkest moments, that is what Americans have done. We have found the faith to keep going.

I have seen it. I have seen it in our teachers and our firefighters, our police officers, our nurses, our small-business owners, and our union workers. I've seen it in the men and women of our military.

In America, you always keep going. We're Americans. We're not big on quitting.

And, remember, before we can keep going, we've got to get going by electing Barack Obama the next president of the United States.


We don't have a moment to lose or a vote to spare. Nothing less than the fate of our nation and the future of our children hangs in the balance. (my emphasis)

Was that clear and unambiguous enough for you, Howie?

It was an interesting night and, I think, a great speech. I feel like it went a long way toward unifying the Democratic Party (which is to say pacifying the anger of her most extreme supporters) and bringing it solidly behind Barack Obama. John McCain should have such solid support from Republicans (he doesn't).

As I was when I voted for her to become my Senator in 2000, I was proud of Hillary Clinton tonight.

God Bless America.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Democratic National Convention, Night One

Howie will most certainly disagree with my description (he still believes that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam Hussein was complicit in the attacks of September 11, 2001, and that the Iraqi government, contrary to the history of the Ba'athist Party, was alled with al Qa'ida), but night one of the DNC convention was an emotional evening celebrating some typical, down-to-earth American family values.

Caroline Kennedy started it off by introducing a tribute to her uncle, Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy. In honoring her uncle, the 47-year veteran of the United States Senate, she also paid tribute to the Senator from Illinois and presumptive Democratic nominee for President of the United States. She said of Obama, "I've never had someone inspire me the way people tell me my father (the late President of the United States John Fitzgerald Kennedy) inspired them. But I do now!"

Caroline Kennedy's introduction was followed by a filmed tribute to her Uncle produced by the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns:

Following the filmed tribute the 76-year-old Massachusetts Democrat, undergoing treatment for a malignant brain tumor that was discovered only last May, gave a rousing speech where he declared, "I pledge to you that I will be there next January on the floor of the United States Senate when we begin the great battle (over a national system of health care)."

But the evening belonged to Michelle Obama, wife of the presumptive nominee and Senator from Illinois. With this speech she should have dispelled, for all but the most cynical (are you listening, Howie?), the GOP-inspired notion that she and her husband are somehow different, alien, bitter, or "hate their country," but, rather, want to improve it. As she put it in her speech, "All of us (are) driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won't do -- that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be."

As I watched the convention this evening, I was struck that what has really captured Americans' imaginations is not that Barack Obama is "the One," or "the Messiah," or "a celebrity," but that he is one of us. Looking at this assembled group of conventioneers, old, young, black, white, Hispanic, and Asian, well-heeled and all shades of middle class, watching the tears stream from their eyes, not for Teddy Kennedy's wealthy family, but for his life-long commitment to keeping "the dream" alive, not for Michelle Obama's beauty or brains but for her working-class roots, I could see evidence that the American Dream is not dead. Not yet.

This was not a phony Texan raised in New Haven, Connecticut, and educated (barely) at Yale. These were my "homeys," without regard to their origins -- a wealthy scion of a world-renowned Massachusetts family committed to public service and the principles of human rights and equality, and a girl from Chicago's South Side who worked hard and did well for herself and for others.

God Bless America.