Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Radical Elite

"The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition." Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, in The Washington Post, April 27th
When the always-on-top-of-the-most-conventional-and-conservative-wisdom Washington Post begins to take notice of the Republican Party's radicalism, you know it's become radical indeed. But, it is important, I think, to point out that this is a radicalism embraced by a significant portion of the nation's elite and those in the affluent and often educated classes who see their interests most closely aligned with that elite.

The Tea Party isn't a pack of working class yahoos. Tea Partiers are, in general, more educated and affluent, not less so, than the general population. And the embrace of romance novelist Ayn Rand's loony ideas isn't thriving among the poor and downtrodden -- those ideas hold their greatest appeal to our affluent and elite financial classes, and wield the greatest influence among members of that class who have served in, and are served by, our government.

Today's yahoos most often have a college education, a good job in an industry that is heavily supported by government spending, and the kind of retirement package that for most other Americans is just a curious relic of someone else's past.

Is this "radicalism" often cynical and self-serving on the part of our elites -- and has the corporate and business world increasingly come to believe that what you say is judged by how it sells, not how closely it aligns with the truth or how absurdly it wanders into fantasy? Yes. But it is a mistake to think cynicism is the only, or even most important, explanation.

The older, whiter, more male and more affluent base of the party doesn't embrace these ideas just out of cynicism and self-interest -- it embraces them out of a self-interested cluelessness based in limited, privileged experience; an inability to see, understand and accept the economic change, and social, economic and other poor consequences of that change that have taken place over the last 30-50 years. Changes encouraged by policies they have supported; policies that have benefitted the eldest and most elite while often causing harm to other Americans, most especially younger Americans.

The older, whiter, more affluent Americans who support the Republican Party are drawn from the most privileged generations in the history of the world. Generations that during their own youth, especially if they were white and male, were the recipients of the greatest public investment in their economic future of any generations in history.

These were generations in which even unionized, working class parents could afford to send their children to college, secure their own retirement and acquire valuable assets for those children to inherit, generations in which the very bright sons of unionized postmen and plumbers were being given access to the most elite colleges and invited into the elite financial world, generations that now see themselves as "meritocrats" while systematically working to undermine the conditions and structures that made their "meritocratic" rise possible.

In other words, these radicals are often the most privileged, the most spoiled, people in the nation.

Everyone, left, right and center, defends their self-interest in the political arena. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as we understand those interests in the context of competing interests and the greater good. In fact, if we don't understand our own self interest we are unlikely to understand, and respect, those interests that conflict with ours -- and we have no grounds for compromise.

But, the radicalism of the Republican Party reflects the limited and increasingly fantastical views of a uniquely privileged group of Americans who recognize no interests but their own, and who's interests, and understanding, have become increasingly detached from the better interests, and experienced realities, of the nation as a whole.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Romney's Glib Economic Advice

“Take a shot, go for it. Take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business,” Mitt Romney to students at Otterbein University in Ohio
As Romney suggests, many entrepreneurs can and have borrowed from family. Some can even, like Mitt himself, start what he has called a “small business” with millions, perhaps billions, of other people’s capital. But, the presumption that every bright, creative and ambitious person out there has those kinds of resources, and the failure to recognize and acknowledge the difficult, often near heroic, feats of patience, persistence, flexibility and creativity -- of those who don't, is a problem in a man who is seeking to lead the nation with the claim that economic competency is his main qualification for doing so. It also appears to be a presumption many of our media elites, those who have criticized criticism of Romney’s statement, apparently share.
I own a small business with my husband -- totally self-financed by savings and sacrifices and, among other things, going without health insurance for the first several years. We have a small staff that's been with us for a long time, but over the years we have also used seasonal and part time help, mostly college students, mostly community college students hoping to go on to a four year college, and trade school students, from poor and working class families. We offer higher than average wages and the kind of flexibility in terms of hours that big box stores and others retailers – that provide the jobs most commonly available to young people -- no longer are willing to provide.
Over the last 20 years, that’s provided us with an opportunity to see the ever more difficult obstacles facing often extremely bright, creative and ambitious kids from much less than affluent backgrounds, and, in some cases, watch the long but persistent struggle they must wage to get an education, gain skills and climb the economic ladder. Obviously, none of these employees’ parents could pay for their education much less help launch them in business. In fact, more than one of our employees over the years has been working to pay for their education, pay for their own support, and send money home -- to family members who had become seriously ill or were disabled. More than one had more than one job -- working a fulltime job, plus, working part time with us, while also attending school.
One young man, who set up our initial website 15 or 16 years ago, and over the years has become a friend, was basically homeless when he started working for us -- couch surfing with friends, catching classes at local community colleges when he could afford to. He was the late-in-life youngest son of a father who in the ‘70s and ‘80s had had a successful career in high tech. Like many others he lost his job in the recession of the late 80s and, as happens commonly to men in technical fields who find themselves unemployed in their 50s and beyond, was never able to work at that level again. In fact, in the ‘90s he experienced long periods of unemployment. By the time our employee was college age his parents’ dire financial straits had torn the family apart. At one point though, after this young man had worked with us for a couple of years, his Dad landed a job and his circumstances improved enough to offer his son a place to live and a chance to attend school full time. That lasted less than a year before his father was laid off again; our now former employee had to go back to work fulltime to help pay the rent -- for his father. Eventually, over several years and with thousands of dollars of debt, he earned a degree online. During that time, he spent years doing low paying service jobs and, as he gained education, contract tech work. Finally, with expensive online degree in hand and years of good, although insecure and inadequately paid, experience under his belt, he landed a great job with a fast growing company in a cutting edge field and is rising rapidly through the ranks. He's now taking advantage of Stanford's free online classes both to expand his skills and just for the pleasure of experiencing education at a level he never before could afford to access.
In the context of the struggle of young people like these, Mr. Romney's remark comes across as flip and clueless.
For young people working to the rise from poverty into the middle class, much less into real affluence and ownership, this economy is full of pitfalls and traps. And those who do make it pay a high price -- in debt, in years of health and income insecurity, in lesser time and resources to prepare for retirement, start a family, gain personal assets.
The fact is, young people trying to rise from the poor and working class, and for many sons and daughters of the middle class too, especially in an economy that has destroyed or devalued so many of the sources of middle class security (secure employment, housing values, pensions, savings and investments) do not have family resources, not even meager ones, to rely on as they plan and work for their future. For them, low interest college loans, generous grant programs, more affordable and accessible public colleges and universities, higher entry level wages, more work flexibility, more affordable health insurance and health care, are what is needed -- along with political acknowledgment of their own existence and value.
But today all of those things are either under attack by Romney and his party, or, non-existent.
A postscript: For the first few years of our business my husband and I could not afford the high premiums for individual health insurance. At one point we were paying off a supplier who had offered us an opportunity to buy him out -- it was a good opportunity, but making those payments meant another 6 months to a year without health insurance. During that time my husband developed a small lump on his neck. We tried to tell ourselves it was just a cyst, but at heart we both knew it was something more serious -- yet, my husband was afraid to go to the doctor and be diagnosed with a "pre-existing condition" that would be a reason for denying coverage. As soon as we had discharged our debt to the former supplier, we started paying premiums for insurance. My husband was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Thankfully, thyroid cancer is a slow growing cancer. After a delicate, 7-hour surgery, he was fine.
If Romney was a little more familiar with this kind of reality, and these sorts of “risks,” he wouldn't speak so glibly about what it takes to start a business, especially for those not born in circumstances like his.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

In the outrage race, Breitbart always went nuclear

In the arms race of outrage required to gain attention and be successful in the modern arena of political commentary, Andrew Breitbart, who died today at the too young age of 43, time and time again chose the nuclear option.

Today my sympathy is for his family -- but, in fact, I always felt sad for him.

He was so painful to watch -- his rage so extreme, and his sputtering hatred of others was so over-the-top, that he was obviously harming himself, as well as the public discourse.

Perhaps the most respectful way anyone, of any political ideology, can meet his passing is to honestly acknowledge how destructive the personal animosity, ginned up outrage, and full throated desire to destroy others that dominates our politics is -- to ourselves as well as those "others" we count as enemies -- and stop feeding it with our attention, and rewarding it with wealth.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Media love (elite) Crackpot Economics

How else to explain the attention poured on "Joe the Plumber" after the last presidential debate? He didn't express one idea you wouldn't find in the most tendentious essays on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, or spouted on air by faux populist like Limbaugh and O'Reilly. In other words, in giving "Joe" so much attention and air time, the media isn't providing a rare forum for the "working man" or "average American" -- once again they are only highlighting another mouthpiece for America's elites.

I'm a small business person and I hate the Republicans for peddling economic nonsense that benefits large corporations by getting out their tiny violins and weeping over the imaginary plight of small business. And the media for allowing them to get away with it.

How can income taxes affect phony Joe's ability to hire? You pay income taxes on profits - after expenses like labor. If Joe's business isn't generating enough business and income to justify hiring an employee he has problems entirely separate from the issue of income taxes. One problem could be that the market he is working in simply can't support his business. A likely problem is too few potential customers with enough disposable income to use his services. In that case "spreading the wealth around" in terms of economic stimulus may be exactly what his business needs.

Bottom line; you hire employees to increase earnings. At least, good business people do. Decisions about hiring have to be justified by demand. Will hiring allow you to increase earnings by producing and selling more products or services or reaching a broader market of customers? Etc. A job is not a charity or a favor dispensed by employers. (As Republicans imply when they say business owners "create" jobs. No. Market demand creates jobs. Employers hire employees to help them meet and exploit that demand; to be more productive.) Salaries don't come out of an owner's personal income – they are an expense that CONTRIBUTES to his or her income. Every single employee's salary has to be justified by what it contributes to the bottom line. The point of hiring is to INCREASE production and the earnings of the business, and therefore increase the owner's personal income.

If the demand for your product decreases, because of poor market conditions, competition, changes in the market that you didn't anticipate or other miscalculations on your part, you lay people off.
Joe the Plumber, if he decides to hire another plumber to help him in his work, will do so because it means the company can do more work. And Joe will pay his new employee a salary that allows him, Joe, to make money from that work.

If, in a market with strong and growing demand for his services, Joe lets his employee go because his personal income taxes went up, how is he saving money? He's not. He's just limiting his ability to make money.
If times aren't good and demand for services drop, Joe may have to layoff his employee because there is less demand. Less demand means less work to do and that, of course, mean less personal income -- which most likely will mean less taxes owed.

Joe doesn't want to pay taxes. That's just normal human selfishness that we all can relate too. But, as citizens, most of us know, or should know, that a sophisticated economy requires doing so. It is going to be hard to right the nation's economic woes without an honest discussion of taxes -- the who, how and why -- that includes respectful consideration of competing and conflicting interests. So while it would be easy to think that "Joe" is the problem, the bigger problem is the media's preference for promoting resentments, fueled by phony arguments from less than honest ideologues, spouting tired ideologies, while ignoring the real, and worried, voices of the broader citizenry.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It's the end of the world! (I hope.)

Or, more exactly, it is the end of the world as we've known it; as both a financial and social era.

I may be one of only a very few Americans to, despite the losses to my retirement account, the new caution of my customers, and the flat-lining of my home's value caused by our current financial crisis, feel inspired to hope and optimism, but I am. (Harold Bloom, discussing Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “idealistic glee” in response to the Panic of 1837 in today’s New York Times, appears to be another one.)

I think that's because I grew up in the 50s as a boomer construction worker’s daughter. I never had a view of that era (or any that followed) as one of stability and security. I saw firsthand that it was a period of immense, dynamic change and often painful dislocation (I personally went to 42 schools in 34 states). As a result, I've never viewed the American economy as being able to provide security. In fact, I was taught that security was the one thing our capitalist economy could never provide.

Capitalism can and often does provide vast opportunities, new beginnings and great rewards – but we tend to forget that the only thing it dependably provides is change. Sometimes very painful change -- but also, change imbued with idealistic possibilities.

Today, we all agree that capitalism requires workers and business owners to be flexible, adaptable and good at what they do, and, always working to improve and update their skills and knowledge. But we have forgotten over the years that such personal virtue alone isn't enough -- that risk, which capitalism demands, IS RISKY and, no matter how virtuous you are, doesn't lead automatically (by magic hand or otherwise) to reward. Born into a prosperity we didn’t create, sustained by magical thinking and one bubble after another, we’ve lazily relinquished our personal and collective responsibility, and our commonly shared economic fate, to “the market,” papered over the loss of jobs, industries and decent wages with too much and too easy credit, and the devolved the “American Dream” into little more than a Lotto fantasy. All conditions that this crisis, I hope, will make harder to sustain. I’m not dismissive of the hard times ahead. But I am hopeful that they will enable us to, at long last, see the unsustainable risk and confront hard times suffered by the bottom 50% for decades now.

My father was a skilled craftsman who worked in the energy industry, across the globe and the country, during this country's amazing post-war expansion. His attitude toward the job market was always entrepreneurial -- yet, at the same time, his most valuable possession was his union "traveling card." He knew that the nature and quality of his skills, along with favorable market conditions, were the only things that could guarantee him work. But he also knew that a willingness to stand up for his interests and for others, in his case through a union that gave him a voice in the nation's political conversation as well as at the negotiating table, was necessary to win respect, fair compensation and decent working conditions. His first and most important loyalty was always to the quality of his work, the one thing that made him valuable in the marketplace. But his other important loyalty was, through his union (the best mechanism he had for making that marketplace more just) to his fellow workers. He believed that selfish devotion to the money, personal prestige or status (rather than to skill, knowledge and justice) were economically short-sighted. And that the expectation of secure reward for loyalty to a company or a boss was naïve; not because the individuals or systems involved were evil but because the ever-changing and dynamic nature of capitalism could never guarantee such a reward.

My father, like others who came of age during the Great Depression, knew that social stability, in the face of capitalist instability, requires accountability (through laws and regulations), compromise among interests, and a social safety net beyond what can or will be provided by the private economy: A safety net that we all, as citizens together, have a responsibility to create and maintain.

If these times wake people up to these realities again -- if they realize that working hard and playing by the rules isn't enough; you have to be willing to stand up for, and if necessary fight for, your economic interest and the common interest -- then we will get through this and come out better on the other side. I believe that, although it has been muted in recent decades, there is a great spirit of creativity, longing for justice, desire for not just personal betterment but for the betterment of all, that resides in the heart of most Americans.

If this crisis forces us to tap into that spirit again, we'll be fine. Perhaps no longer "the greatest most powerful nation on earth" as our politicians have been fond of saying -- but fine enough to put our house in order, meet our responsibilities to each other, and live up to our highest ideals.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

What was missing from Obama's speech?

An overall theme and, still, a positive reason for his presidency.

There was no "New Deal." No "New Frontier." No "Bridge to the 21st Century". Not even a "Thousand Points of Light" or "Compassionate Conservatism" expressed in specific, new policies like "No Child Left Behind" and "The Faith Based Initiative."

While watching it, I really liked the speech -- but when it was over I realized I still didn't have an answer to what an Obama presidency would look like, or for why Obama wants to be President. He didn't tell me how his presidency would differ, for instance, from Bill Clinton's -- or Hillary Clinton's, or Joe Biden's, or Dodd if they, instead of Obama, had won the nomination.

He reassured me that he was running as a Democrat -- with a commitment to the issues we Democrats have long fought for and favored; health care, more teachers, more cops, protecting workers rights and social security, working for greater access to higher education, pay equity, equality, etc.,etc. He reassured me that he respected, rather than dismissed, the Clinton legacy. He took it to the Republicans and strongly made the negative case for "change" -- and the argument for why McCain would not be change but "more of the same" that the country can not afford. And he did it all eloquently.

But he did not paint a picture of -- his positive, inspiring vision of -- the future America needs, deserves, will be challenged and helped to achieve, in new and specific ways, by his administration. Nor did he tell us why (other than repairing and returning to better times before the damage inflicted by Bush) these times call for, and allow for, pursuing such a vision.

This speech answered the questions the media and critics inside and outside the party had been asking. But it didn't ask any new questions, or inspire his audience to ask new questions, about how the future should be or provide any answers to how we can move into, meet the challenges of, that new, inspiring future.

I suspect the Obama campaign is fighting the last campaign. From Kerry's loss they learned that one must REACT -- quickly and forcibly. But in the process, they forgot that one must lead, positively and imaginatively.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

This week the media punditocracy has been quick and fulsome in its condemnation of distasteful (and quickly removed) comments, by anonymous posters of no power, position or influence, on the liberal blog, Huffington Post. But their coverage and criticism of the distasteful, hate-mongering and highly public language of an extremely influential and well establish conservative -- Ann Coulter -- at CPAC, an important conservative yearly event, has been much more muted.

The consistent disparity between the media's reaction to over-heated speech on the Left and that of the Right is extremely frustrating to Progressives. But it is a frustration that they may just have to learn to live with, and work around.

It's not fair, but it is inevitable that the most powerful and comfortable elements in any society (even those who do not necessarily strongly identify as "conservative") -- and the media institutions that support the interests of and provide a voice for the powerful -- will always be much more concerned about, frightened by and condemning of anger on the Left, as well as any signs of Progressive Populism no matter how "non-violent," than they are by Right Wing Populism, anger and even outright violence.

Why? Because the targets of Progressive anger and activism ARE the powers-that-be. The established. Those in control. Because it demands change, the Left's message is always disturbing -- whether that message is delivered vulgarly or violently or not.

The targets of Right Wing anger, activism and violence, on the other hand, are the weak, the powerless, the upstart, the outsider and the outcast -- and the few (such as John Edwards, Coulter's target) who choose to represent them. The Right's aim -- no matter how violent the speech or the action -- is to resist change and defend established power and privilege.

When the Right grabs its pitch forks (and dons its hoods), it marches into the neighborhoods of the poorest of the poor.

When the Left is on the march, it marches into the financial districts and the corridors of power -- and generates unease in the most privileged neighborhoods in the land.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Many political observers are amazed by Rudy Guliani's apparent strength among "social conservatives" in the Republican party. The CW is that support will diminish or disappear when those conservative voters know more about his record.

But I suspect Rudy's conservative Republican supporters DO understand his record, and may just be making the same mistake many Democrats made in 2004 -- choosing their candidate, to a partial but important degree, on criteria they think OTHERS will apply to the candidates. (In other words, electability.)

Just as Democrats vastly over-estimated how much John Kerry's military credentials would matter to a broader, supposedly more "centrist," electorate, and failed to realize how little it would do to moderate his real deficit -- an elitist liberal image -- these conservatives are over-estimating how much Rudy's blue-state background will matter to more "moderate" voters.

In 2004, Democrats, instead of blasting absurd notions of their "weakness" in military matters, gave credence to conservative characterizations of them with clumsy over-compensation. In doing so they overlooked the fact that no matter how "security" conscious or bellicose the broader, more "moderate" electorate appeared to be, that electorate was increasingly made up of people who never served in the military, who don't see avoidance of service as shameful or disqualifying, and whose lack of any real military experience turned out to be very exploitable.

My guess is that conservatives' notions of what more "moderate" voters are looking for is just as off base and stereotyped -- but from another direction.

I suspect that the very large personal character faults and flaws conservatives are willing to overlook in Rudy in order to win are much less likely to be overlooked and tolerated by voters who do not have strongly partisan reasons for doing so.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

The establishment pundits who indulge in over-the-top criticism of "netroots" aided activism need to own up to their self-interest.

Supporters of Internet initiated and supported grassroots efforts -- for Dean in 2004, Lamont in 2006, etc. -- base their support in a candidate's willingness to address issues that are not being adequately addressed by established politicians, or, their opposition to or dissatisfaction with established politicians' positions on specific issues. Such conflicts are exactly what democratic politics are, or at least should be, all about.

Critics of such grassroots efforts (for instance, Joe Klein, who recently attacked netroots efforts to challenge Rep. Elaine Tauscher in California), are to a man people who earn their bread and butter as part of a professional political media and consultant class.

Members of this class, naturally and self-interestedly enough, prefer a politics that, while it may not bear much on the real and pragmatic concerns and interests of ordinary voters, strengthens media power (and their power) because it is created within the media and is totally dependent on media cooperation — that is, the politics of flamboyant, unresolvable distractions called the “culture war” and the titillating pleasures of trumped up “character” assassination and scandal.

However you dress it up, people — all across the political spectrum — participate in politics and vote based on their own self-interest and their view of the broader best interest of the country. Left, right or center, people want, and have a right to, representation. No one votes for someone to be lukewarm and “moderate” in representing their interests and hopes for their community and country.

Those who object to a politician like Tauscher as someone who poorly represents them may or may not be ultimately successful with replacing her, or encouraging her to act in a way that is more representative of their views and interests. But, in acting to secure representation for themselves, they are doing EXACTLY what is required of us all as active, participating citizens in a democracy.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

In an interview yesterday with ABC News, Vice President Dick Cheney said that the Murtha and Pelosi plan for Iraq validates the al Qaeda "strategy."

"The al Qaeda strategy is to break the will of the American people, knowing they can't win in a stand-up fight, try to convince us to throw in the towel and come home and then they win because we quit," he said.

Al Qaeda wouldn't be around to boldly and publicly insult America if this adminstration hadn't totally failed -- over 5 years and counting -- to track down their leadership and hold them accountable for the mass murder they committed on our soil. Dick Cheney should be ashamed to use the sneering words of al Qaeda -- the unrepentant, un-captured, unbowed murderers who attacked this country under his administration's watch -- against his own people. Most especially when, adding insult to injury, it is his administration that chose, very early on, to walk away from a "stand up fight" with al Qaeda's leader, Osama bin laden.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

What's wrong with this message?

"To retreat before victory has been won would be a reckless act -- and the president and our party will not allow it." Karl Rove

Karl Rove is out and about again rallying the (Republican) troops for this year's election. As the above quote indicates, the plan is to run, again, on staying the course and pursuing "victory" in Iraq.

But the problem with that strategy is this; we have already had our "victory" in Iraq.

That victory, as Karl knows, was celebrated when the President stepped onto that aircraft carrier in a borrowed Top Gun suit -- and all it won for us was a lousy occupation.

Everything that has followed the fall of Baghdad and the capture of Saddam has been about dealing with the inevitable reality of military victory.

The administration, in verbally projecting "victory" somewhere into a misty and idyllic future, hopes to divert our eyes from this material truth; they accomplished everything they wanted in Iraq without achieving any of the benefit they expected.

The military action was a success, but the foreign policy strategy is a failure. And nothing we do militarily in the future can change that fait accompli.

Conquering Iraq militarily has not "changed the paradigm" in the Mideast (except, perhaps, for the worse), it has not increased security at home or lessened terrorism abroad (Osama Bin Laden still lives to threaten us).

What it has done is emboldened more dangerous enemies (Iran and North Korea), strained relationships with our allies, highlighted our weaknesses before the world, over-stretched our military and saddled us with the costly, in both American lives and treasure, long term responsibility for a destroyed and divided state.

It is well past time for the press, the public and the oppostion party to face up to that reality and finally call a spade a spade. What is going on in Iraq isn't a "war" -- it is an occupation. And at issue isn't whether we are willing to "do what it takes to win," but rather whether we are ready to own up to what we've won -- and do what we can to correct and recover from a disasterously failed policy.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The South-obsessed D.C. establishment strikes again -- choosing Virginia's newly elected Democratic governor (and great hope of establishment moderates who still think there's a "New South" in which the party, with enough pandering, can prevail), Tim Kaine, to give the Democratic response to the President's State of the Union speech.

Kaine is a bright, well-spoken technocrat, who represents some of the best aspects of the liberal meritocracy. But he is not a man to represent the kind of pugnacious, populist spirit that's long been missing from the party -- and that the times demand.

He represents the party's strenuous efforts to hold on to bits and pieces of an old, dying coalition -- rather than evidence of new vitality and growth. Or, evidence that the party's leaders understand that difficult times demand difficult and dramatic change within the party itself.

If what they wanted was to introduce a new Democratic star to the nation, they would have been better served by tapping the first Democrat to win the governorship in Montana in over decade and a half -- Gov. Brian Schweitzer. A smart man with a genuine populist touch, from a part of the country that the Democrats continue to ignore at their peril.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Speech Maker in Chief


As the administration gears up for the State of the Union, I have some thoughts on President Bush as a speech maker -- that go beyond the usual complaints about his difficulties with the language or the usual compliments for his "regular guy" style.

Commentators often note how comfortable Bush is with the language of (Evangelical) "faith." But less noted, and in light of his administration's failures and his falling popularity more important, is Bush's extreme discomfort with both moral argument and the traditional language of small "d" democracy.

Time and again, Bush has explicitly rejected moral argument as little more than an attempt to make him justify, second guess or explain himself. Even more interesting, to me at least -- and unique among Presidents in my lifetime -- it never seems to occur to him to appeal to us, in the democratic tradition, as fellow citizens who he hopes to inspire to unite with him (in a great cause or enterprise). The reason for this, I believe, is because frankly he doesn't see us that way.

However "regular guy" he strives to be, at heart Bush is an authoritarian and autocrat.

His speeches, whatever the subject, tend to be not about us (we, the people), but, primarily about himself (he, the magnificent) -- his resolve, his faith, his beliefs, his responsibilities, his suffering ("It's hard work").

This, for instance, is how he opened the first speech (in a series) he gave to win back our support on the war in Iraq, "My greatest responsibility as president is to protect the American people."

It's a sentence (often repeated) that immediately asserts his rank, his centrality and importance as our leader, and his wish to reassure and comfort those of us who follow. But it is not one that can, or is meant to, inspire or activate. Instead, it reflects an attitude that sees "the people" as dependent, childlike, waiting to be reassured and led by the leader's higher resolve and wisdom. Not as, in the democratic tradition, a powerful, active, moral force.

There are many Americans -- and perhaps more today than in the past -- for whom the language of simple faith, unyielding authority and comforting assurance are enough (and the complexity of moral judgement and ethical choice, perhaps, too much). If that weren't true Bush wouldn't have won the last election.

But, as new information and events continue to undermine Bush's credibility, and therefore his authority, and more Americans feel less protected -- from the realities on the ground in Iraq, from the suffering of military families, from the incompetence on display after Katrina, from the shock of oil prices and health care costs, from doubts about the economy, etc. -- it may no longer be enough.

With his authority tarnished, and their faith (in him) waning, it is probably now too late for Bush to make the moral arguments, and the democratic appeals to shared sacrifice, he failed to make earlier.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Joshua Green in the current Atlantic (January/February 2006) invites us to be surprised by the bumper crop of returning Iraq/Afghanistan veterans who are currently planning a run for political office. But in comparing the greater, more immediate political participation of today's returning Iraq vets (and yesterday's WWII vets) to the veterans of Vietnam he overlooks some basic facts. The average age of combat soldiers in the Vietnam War was only 19. The average age of combat soldiers in WWII was 26. The average age of today’s active-duty soldier is 28. The average age of today’s reservist? 32.

The youthful Vietnam veteran often had years of work ahead of him to gain or complete an education and establish a career before he could seriously consider running for office -- or be considered seriously as a political candidate. Plus, he had to do so in competition with a great many service-avoiding contemporaries who were already steps ahead of him (and who dominate our politics today).

This age difference alone made it easily predictable that returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans would, like the veterans of WWII, enter the political arena sooner and, perhaps (only time will tell), to more immediate and greater effect than the veterans of Vietnam.

Green also asks us to be surprised that the overwhelming majority of these vets intend to run as Democrats -- suggesting that this is made possible because the party has become less "anti-GI" than during the Vietnam era. But the suggestion that that era's Democratic Party was "anti-GI," is totally unsupported. Veterans, in fact, dominated the party at the time and for many years after. The party’s most out-spoken liberal critics of the war were veterans (and, of course, not all of that eras outspoken critics of the war were Democrats). Those Vietnam veterans who did eventually enter politics were as likely, if not more likely, to do so as Democrats.

Was there anti-soldier feeling among some of the most extreme, youthful anti-war contemporaries of that war's veterans? Sure. But those movement extremists weren't fans of the Democratic Party, either. More significant but mostly overlooked by all but the veterans who experienced it; anti-soldier feeling wasn't limited to opponents of that war.

Many war supporters disdained the young men who fought it and blamed them, personally, for its humiliating loss. The "we won our war" sneers of older vets that greeted returning vets like my brother at the VFW were much more deeply wounding than any criticism from the political fringe. In addition to the relative youth of the Vietnam era vet, this attitude of war supporters -- who saw these young soldiers as feckless losers, rather than as heroes -- was a significant reason why service in Vietnam was and remains less of a political asset than service in other wars.

That lack of respect for the soldiers of Vietnam sadly still persists -- and is not limited or defined by political ideology. In fact, one of the most common arguments against a draft that conservatives make today is the, in their estimation, "poor quality" of the soldiers who fought in Vietnam. And, as recent political campaigns demonstrate, it is the Republican Party that has perfected assaults on and found great advantage in exploiting lingering disappointment and doubts about the personal character and ability of that war’s soldiers. (In campaigns against Republican veteran John McCain as well as Democrats.)

Will Republicans, whose current leaders almost to a man avoided service in Vietnam, be able to successfully use similar character attacks to good advantage against the Iraq War’s politically active vets?

The answer to that may lie, in some part, in how wedded those in the media remain to the kind of unexamined political clichés on display in Mr. Green’s report.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

It's been a long time since I posted here. Re-reading my past entries, I am struck by many things -- but first of all I'm struck by the fact that my posting ended just before the start of our war with Iraq. I was, it appears, struck dumb by that event.

In the best of times, I am not a fast and facile writer. So perhaps, under any conditions, my decision to start a blog was ill-considered -- I don't have a talent for the immediate, my reactions aren't quick enough.

But, beyond that, these are not the best of times. This is a time when manipulative dishonesty, arrogant fantasy, slippery salesmanship and smug "faith" (providing cover to extreme self-will) have overcome many of the virtues that have, in times of conflict and trial, been this country's saving grace; democratic modesty, pragmatism, a preference for the straight-forward and plain spoken over the grandiose, for decency on a human scale over glory on a grand one, for imperfect unity over uncompromising, angry, and at its heart exploitive, division, for the practical over the ideological.

These virtues haven't always prevailed, of course. There are plenty of examples in our history when grandiosity and smugness -- an aggressive insistence on our "exceptionalism" and a bellicose clamoring, by some, for their self-interested and often cruel version of the perfect -- have led us to violence and inhumanity. But, time and again, our more modest virtues have re-asserted themselves and, more or less, saved us from the worst in us.

Will they do so again? Or have they been, finally and for all time, vanquished? This is the question that troubles me and makes it difficult for me to write. Does the America that so informs my own identity -- of humble but solid virtues, tolerant practicality, humane ideals -- still exist? Did it ever exist? And if it doesn't, who am I, what have I become, as "an American?"

It is hard to speak honestly when so much falseness and dishonesty -- in the government, in the media, even in the religious institution we look to first and foremost for hard and honest moral examination -- prevails.

Monday, February 17, 2003

THE FAILED WORLD LEADER

Whether Bush is the worst president of all time, as some have recently asserted, only time can tell, of course. But, I don't think it is too soon to say he is, so far, a failed president.

The lack of cooperation from the UN, the worldwide demonstrations that took place over the past weekend, and the widening rift between the U.S. and Europe all have one cause; inadequate, incompetent, inarticulate and failed American leadership.

Prime Minister Blair, along with many others, including, to name only a few who have spoken articulately on the matter over the last year; Sen. John McCain, Gen. Wesley Clark, Sen. John Kerry, former President Clinton and former Vice President and presidential candidate Al Gore, is right about the need to, and the potential benefits to the region and the world of, liberating the people of Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

But Blair, in his efforts to gain the support of his own people and other European leaders, is unfortunate in being saddled in partnership with George W. Bush and his coterie of advisors who, even prior to 9/11, appear to have seen Iraq primarily as an opportunity to nakedly demonstrate American power, rather than as a problem for the world, with the best interests of the Iraqi people foremost in mind, to solve together. Or, more recently and most ignobly, as a diversion from the unresolved situation with Al Queda and the unfinished business in Afghanistan. Or, worst of all, as a handy political tool for blunting criticism of domestic policy.

Instead of leading the world through demonstrations of sacrifice and commitment, this administration has relied on bribery and bullying. Instead of appealing to mankind's most moral instincts, it has arrogantly assumed that it alone possesses "moral clarity." Instead of articulating the world's hopes for cooperation and peace, it has threatened "pre-emption" and allowed its advisors and supporters to brag about "imperium." Instead of laying out the facts it has cynically manipulated them -- and needlessly sown distrust where there should have been support.

What the worldwide reaction to these failures demonstrates to all but the most blindly partisan is this: to fulfill its leadership role in the world America requires something much more informed, more articulate, more morally serious and less arrogant than President George W. Bush's "gut" and "instincts."

Bush may or may not be the "good man" his supporters proclaim him to be -- and that he, like most of us, undoubtedly strives to be. But, he is not a good president.

It may be true that a quick win in Iraq -- especially if it can be obtained without imposing great suffering and devastation on the Iraqi people -- will silence today's war critics. But it will not capture Osama, weaken and neutralize Al Queda, address the issue of weapons proliferation in Iran, North Korea and elsewhere, immediately lead to a peaceful blossoming of democracy in the Middle East, or make the world safer. All of those things will require both long-term commitment and gaining the region's and the world's cooperation and trust -- things for which this administration has, so far, demonstrated no talent.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

SCREWING THE NEXT GENERATION

The Bush administration’s recently reported hope to remedy what they see as “a rising tax burden on the rich and a declining burden on the working poor and middle class,” by flattening tax rates and raising taxes on low wage earners, is as economically short-sighted as it is immoral.

The wealthiest 1% of earners pay the largest share of total income tax because they earn the largest share of total income, not because entry-level and other low wage workers are under-taxed.

In fact, the top 1% earns 38% of the nation’s total income – a larger share than the combined income of the entire bottom 40%. Yet, with payroll taxes included, they only pay 25% of total federal taxes (or, 36% with Social Security excluded).

Since their combined share of income is greater than earners in the bottom 40%, it is only logical that their combined share of income taxes paid to the government is also larger.

The reason why the share of total taxes paid by those at the top has increased in recent years is simple; their incomes have increased, spectacularly, while the incomes of those in the middle have stagnated, and those at the bottom end of the wage scale have declined.

The real, and rarely discussed, problem this country faces is increasing barriers to class mobility and personal security and wealth creation caused by wage stagnation and decline, especially at the entry level. And that problem will only be exacerbated by tax increases on mid and low wage earners.

Why? Because, in a broadly middle class society like ours has been, the lowest wage earners – “the working poor” -- are, in general, simply the youngest earners, at the beginning of their working life. And “the rich,” in general, are merely their elders who have had a lifetime to accumulate valuable experience and assets.

Males from twenty to thirty years of age, for instance, average wages less than half those of men in their peak earning years, between the ages of fifty and sixty. People 50 and older own 77% of all of the country’s financial assets as well, and 43% of all discretionary income is controlled by households with people who are older than 50.

This isn’t surprising. After all, it takes time to accumulate skills and experience that make one valuable in the workplace. And, it takes time, and years of investment, to accumulate assets that lead to wealth.

The fact is, broadly speaking, income disparities are most determined by age. And higher taxes on “the poor” really means higher taxes on the young -- those at the beginning of their economic life who have the least amount of disposable income, and yet, the greatest need to use the limited resources they do have to make significant personal investments in their, and their young families’, futures.

For them, a flat tax that increases their share of the tax burden will mean less money available for personal investments in education and training, establishing a home, investing in property, starting a business, educating children, preparing for retirement. And, therefore, less opportunity to enter the middle class, build assets and wealth, and contribute to the future wealth of the nation.

Wage stagnation, a less progressive tax system, and inflation in the basics of middle class prosperity – education, home ownership and health care -- as well as increasing job instability and less secure retirement benefits, have already had consequences for Baby Boomers just now moving into their peak earning years. They are expected to retire with less than half the personal net wealth of their parents’ generation -- a generation that, by the way, reaped the benefits of an extremely progressive tax system. That progressive system gave them a significant tax break, compared to their richer elders, in their youthful, wealth creating years, while still allowing for significant public investment – in everything from higher education to highways. They then, of course, in their years of greatest earnings, when the personal investments they made in their youth began to pay off, reaped the benefit of Reagan-era tax cuts.

Flattening the tax system even more than we already have, and raising taxes on the youngest, poorest earners, as the Bush administration is proposing, will have much worse consequences for the Baby Boomers’ children. That younger generation is starting out burdened by lower real wages at the entry level, greater debt, less job security, as well as higher education, housing and health care costs, than their parents and grandparents. Plus, they have suffered, and will continue to suffer, the consequences of years of taxpayer resistance to making public investments in infrastructure, transportation, education, etc., that are key to any generation’s future prosperity.

Asking them to now take on an even greater tax burden is unconscionable.

We do ourselves a disservice as a nation when we insist on seeing, and discussing, tax policy as a matter of class warfare -- as a re-distribution of wealth between individuals, from the “greedy rich” to the “undeserving poor.”

In reality, taxes are about a transfer of wealth and public resources between generations.

Our failure to recognize this has already contributed to an economy in which the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider. Continuing to ignore the generational consequences of tax policies like those already applied, and those being considered, by this administration, will transform our society – in ways that I think few Americans would intentionally choose.

It will lead to a society in which the personal attributes of creativity, energy, hard work and ambition mean less and less to an individual’s future prospects, while inherited wealth means more and more.

And that will mean economic stagnation, and the end of the American Dream.

(Source: Primelife, Orange, California)








Thursday, November 28, 2002

Andrew Sullivan, in his piece in Salon this week on the violence surrounding the Miss Universe contest in Nigeria, takes an opportunity to, one more time, exploit heart-rending tragedy for disreputable purposes: As a stick with which to beat a petty partisan drum.

Animosity and horrific violence between Muslims and tribal, often Christian, groups in Africa has a long history. Including a devastating recent history that Americans of all political persuasions have mostly ignored. And, intrusions of Western commercial culture into the region have sometimes provided the spark.

Dealing with, and working to avoid, such violence, on a smaller but constant scale, was a routine part of my husband's job as a construction supervisor for a major oil company in Sudan in the early 1980s. Which is why his employers so valued his credentials as a former Green Beret with experience of the bloody conflict in the Congo in the 1960s. The violence in Sudan, of course, got much bloodier still a decade later – but still, we Americans barely noticed. Just as few, outside the "paleo-feminist" movement, as Sullivan deems it, have, over many decades, barely noticed the ongoing and equally morally reprehensible violence that Islam routinely visits on those within its own ranks.

9/11 has certainly heightened our awareness, and made us cast a more critical eye at those who have often been our business partners. But the primary reason this recent event has so thoroughly captured the attention of our media, and therefore our attention, is because the Miss Universe contest is a Western media event.

Sex and violence sells. Wrap it in some shallow and ersatz political moralizing with Old Glory for a backdrop, and it sells even more.

Mr. Sullivan's latest contribution to the Punch and Judy Show of Culture War, practiced by our elites to so little good effect for the unity and welfare of our own country, adds nothing to our understanding of the situation.

Because what happened in Nigeria is not about us.

And it is certainly not about an ever-more-debased and self-serving dispute over which wing of the American political spectrum holds the most correct moral attitudes.

In a world grown smaller and more inter-connected, in which American interests extend to even the most remote and dusty villages -- and American commercial culture is ever more on display in those remote places -- we are neither innocent bystanders, stalwart moral saviors, or malevolent provocateurs. We are simply humans going about our business, following our enthusiasms, indulging our pleasures, for good and ill, in a world that has diminished in size, but not in complexity.

This, in a parallel to a phrase of Mr. Sullivan's, is what cultural egotism, decadent culture-war journalism, and ever-more self-congratulatory conservative polemics, like Sullivan's, amounts to: a failure to grasp that freedom is a rare commodity.

And that unless leavened with liberal tolerance, as well as integrity, responsibility and humility, it is no salvation against hatred and violence. In fact, it can be quite the opposite.

It is not their “ hatred of our freedoms” that led to the violence in Nigeria. It is their hatred and intolerance of each other: Their moral arrogance, lack of humility, and the violent insistence of some that their freedom depends on controlling, and extinguishing the freedom of, others.

In other words, their inability and unwillingness to view morality in any terms other than the most partisan.

One of the keys to our free society is freedom of the press -- even to be disrespectful, annoying, blasphemous – even to sow division, encourage rancor, heat up resentment and focus moral hatred. What just happened in Nigeria, has happened here. Bombings and arsons, threats against the families of political officials, the death of a doctor or young receptionist here, the death and injury of bystanders at a public event there, the death and injury of only a few hundred bureaucrats, children and citizens somewhere else. These were immoral acts undertaken, and yes, to some degree incited, in the name of a partisanly defined morality. Hatred of the freedom of others exists even in the land of the free.

To say, as some conservatives do, that they cannot be equated with what others do elsewhere is morally reprehensible. To, over and over again, dismiss such events as solely the result of a lone and alien evil, and dismiss their context, is morally dishonest. The innocent dead are dead, and they must be accountably acknowledged, and the context of their deaths honestly expatiated, if we are to, anywhere, speak with any moral authority at all.

It isn’t envy, as Mr. Sullivan says, that genuinely challenges Americans as we become more and more entangled in this complex world -- where conflicting values, traditions and ancient hatreds still reign. A world that is, in fact, and nonetheless, becoming more and more free.

It is finding the answer to this perplexing question that freedom always poses: How to be both moral AND morally tolerant.

And further, how to relate to the many whose moral values so offend our own, without making war with more than half the world -- or, succumbing ourselves to the morally reprehensible.

If we hope to find the answer to those questions in relationship to the rest of the world, we may have to find it first right here at home.

And, inevitably, we will find it in the context of those liberal values -- freedom balance by tolerance and respect, the desires and passions of the self balanced by obligation and accountability to community -- that Mr. Sullivan, and so many contemporary others, so disdain.

Monday, November 11, 2002

Is The Success of the Conservative Revolution the Beginning of the End of the "United" States?

That is an extreme question, I know. But, I wonder, with Liberalism vanquished, how long this always rather impossible "union" of diverse states, values and interests that we call the "United States" can really hold together?

Someone recently suggested that in raising this question, in light of the Republican consolidation of power achieved in the last election, I am behaving like the Far Right extremists, found in greatest numbers in the West, who have separated themselves from our recent political traditions and refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of a "government" that does not share their values.

But these people illustrate my point exactly.

The far, far extreme of the Reactionary Right demonstrates, in the extreme, one of contemporary conservatism's most important features; it is separatist and uncompromising. It is my way or the highway. It is Right people vs. Wrong people. It is "us," and "them." Me, and my enemies.

Like these extremists, the people in power today also believe that compromise is dishonorable. Tolerance is weakness. Diversity is dangerous. Accomodation is betrayal. Criticism is treason. And, politics is war.

They do not believe the Constitution is a living document; they embrace what they term as "first principles" and reject more than 200 years of liberal, Enlightment impulses and evolution toward ever-expanding equality and democracy. They reject the influence of the Enlightment itself on our founders, and insist this is a "Christian nation" founded on religious principles alone. They reject more than 100 years of progressive influence on our economics and believe we abandoned economic "freedom," the only freedom they recognize -- and only for limited numbers of people -- in the 19th century.

They believe in power, property and established authority -- not the "natural rights" of ordinary men.

They are the political descendents of those who did not want the Bill of Rights in the constitution, and those who flirted with the idea of making Washington "King."

40 years ago, when conservatives first started making their move toward power, they removed the national "We" from our political conversation. There is no "Pluribus Unum" in their philosophy. Only "Unum."

Unfortunately for us, it is the liberal impulse -- the impulse and tradition that today's conservatives have declared as "unAmerican" and an enemy to be destroyed -- toward tolerance and compromise that has kept our rather unlikely union together for more than 200 years.

Furthermore, in a diverse society, freedom, as Michael Ventura said in a recent essay, does not mean you get everthing you want -- it means nobody -- no one person, interest, school of thought, political group, region -- gets everything they want.

Without tolerance there can be no "Pluribus Unum," without tolerance and a willingness to compromise there can be no "Freedom."

And, without the liberal tradition in our politics, we are no longer the "exceptional" nation -- we are just another place where the rich and powerful rule over those who are not.

The conservatives in power today see dishonor in not using their power to get everything they want. Because they believe what they want is the ONLY thing any of us SHOULD want. They don't see their political opponents as fellow Americans who they must work with, and whose diverse claims they must accomodate, instead, they see all of those who disagree with them as a monolithic and "unAmerican" enemy that they must fight against and destroy.

The end of tolerance, the disdain for diversity of opinion, the refusal to acknowledge diversity of interest, IS the end of freedom.

The last 30 years have been, as Ted Kennedy recently said, a Cold Civil War. Unfortunately, one side was, by its very nature, unprepared to see it as war.

The liberal promise of the Declaration of Independence was not born whole as a reality in the Revolution. It wasn't based in what was -- it evolved slowly, and with much resistance, from an idea, based on what could be. American liberalism has always compromised. It has always both accomodated and tolerated its enemies. It has always settled for what it could get today in the hope of getting more tomorrow.

It has done this because to do otherwise would be tyranny -- and a rejection of freedom. And because, at heart, it has always believed, perhaps erroneously, that its impulses were "natural" and the triumph of its principles inevitable.

The notion of separation rather than unity, the notion of politics as "war," the notion of other Americans as "the enemy," of singularity rather than diversity -- none of this is consistent with American liberalism, which has always relied on resistance, protest and moral persuasion, rather than revolution, and compromise and persistence, rather than tyranny and power.

With that tradition vanquished, as conservatives hope to make it, dis-unity and separatism may not be a choice in our future -- it may be an inevitability.



Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Well, this time, at least, the people spoke.

What they said was that they are afraid. Afraid of freedom, afraid of the world outside our borders, afraid of their bosses' threats to take away their jobs, afraid to stand up for themselves, and, perhaps most of all, afraid of each other.

I don't think you can blame the Democratic "leadership." Or the media. Or, even, the lies the Republicans tell.

People want to believe those lies. Because those lies say you don't have to do anything and it will still be okay. You don't have to understand the world, care about your neighbor or take on the hard job of challenging the boss -- you just have to do the easy job of beating up on the vulnerable.

Personally, if we can't be a courageous, liberal country that values freedom, and is willing to fight for it, in which people accept moral responsibility for themselves and each other in the cause of creating a decent community, I wish we would, at least, become an honestly conservative country in which we are left alone to care for ourselves without the intrusions of government, and free of the bullying of tax payer supported corporate power.

I'd be more than happy to pay no taxes at all, if they'd let me. But, of course, that's never going to happen. Instead, as a small business person, I'm being taxed through the ying yang to support companies like Halliburton and help make people like Cheney and Rumsfeld and W rich. Why? Because a majority of Americans think their jobs depend on making sure the corporate powers that be get everything they ask for.

Middle class people in this country no longer pay taxes -- they pay tribute to their masters.

Who then skip off to some tax-haven to enjoy their plunder without having to pay taxes of their own.

People like Thune and Talent and Coleman and Chambliss, these aren't representatives of the people; they're hand-picked corporate lobbyists. You and I get to pay their salaries -- at least until they prove their mettle for their masters enough to make the really big bucks on the direct payroll.

But don't blame the politicians, because while they may not, with our permission, represent our true, long term interests, they ARE representatives of who we are: People who lie routinely, especially to ourselves, fluff up our resumes, and are perfectly willing to sell our souls, the family farm, the means of production, and our childrens' futures for a little bit of ready cash in the here and now, and a few more drops of oil for the SUV.

The only things most of your fellow Americans want in addition to that is a promise to keep the protestors out of range of the tv cameras, the homeless swept off the streets, and the misfits locked away forever.

They want to see no evil, hear no evil, and tell themselves that the lies we comfort ourselves with have no evil consequences.

Democracy worked.

Saturday, November 02, 2002

ANDREW SULLIVAN IGNORES REALITY

“Should I feel guilty because I'm glad he's dead? If I feel like liberal democrats are American traitors, isn't that a logical response?” Posted 10/29/02, on Lucianne.com

What does it mean for a democracy, built as it must be on faith in ordinary human nature and capacity, when ordinary citizens begin to routinely entertain the notion, if not simply assume, that their leaders are committing the foulest crimes, including treason and politically convenient murder?

I don’t know the answer to that important question. But I do know this: Andrew Sullivan, in a recent Salon column, was wrong to state an equivalency between two Internet writer’s examinations of the bitterly paranoid response of some, who loved and admired him, to Senator Wellstone's unexpected death, and the multiple taxpayer-supported investigations of Vince Foster's suicide.

There was nothing “fringe” about speculation that President Clinton and his wife might be murderers. It was indulged in, with more than just a wink and a nod, by well-known public office holders like Representative Dan Burton, and influential media owners and political advocates like Reverend Falwell; people possessing, or routinely welcomed into, the nation’s most powerful and public forums.

Given that reality, Mr. Sullivan may want to revise his assessment of "American reasonableness." As well as re-examine any assumptions he may be harboring about the current state of American faith in our political leaders, or, for that matter, in each other.

Paranoia has been main stream for quite some time now. In fact, during President Clinton’s terms in office, we taxpayers indulged political paranoia and distrust to the tune of 70 million dollars.

Where was “American reasonableness” then? Could it be found dependably in the corridors of Congress and among the sworn officers of the courts? Did it thrive in the pressrooms of the nation’s most prestigious newspapers, or in the green rooms of our major broadcast media?

No. Paranoia stood in the halls of power bellowing down the majority voice of ordinary voters; dashing their hopes for a reasoned debate on the important, pragmatic matters of the day. It shattered civilized notions of privacy, robbed us, as a nation, of our dignity, and turned our politics into pornography. It saw conspiracy, and even treason, behind every human error, and read volumes into every ill-advised word. It turned political discourse into a non-stop expression of moral umbrage by people whose moral authority rested only on celebrity, and photogenic teeth and hair. It made careers and ruined lives. And ultimately it offered us irrefutable proof that our President had succumbed to the same age-old sins of the flesh that have tempted many, including our own neighbors, co-workers and friends. And then he had, as humans have done for eons, tried to hide those private, fleshly sins from public view.

Did the embarrassingly personal and private nature of the sin revealed, in comparison to the scouring public combat of the investigations, reassure us? Of course not. It just once again proved, to all of us, what we are most afraid to acknowledge: that the leaders at the helm of the most powerful ship of state in history are merely human.

Now, with the political shoe on the other foot, Mr. Sullivan wants us, with no more than a few partisan assurances and the issuance of a high court’s judgement, to get our faith in democracy back.

But, for reasons far more serious than Bill Clinton’s philandering, or the Impeachment Manager’s partisan excess, distrust infects the air we breathe. And, because it’s useful, paranoia is still the coin of the realm.

In fact, paranoia and routine hints of conspiracy have infected Mr. Sullivan’s writing just as much as they have infected the broader body politic.

For example, in the very first paragraph of his commentary, Sullivan robs the two writers he has chosen to critique, Michael Nimans, an obscure college professor, and Ted Rall, a cartoonist, of their individuality, and assigns them to some “morally debased” and shadowy “movement.”

In size and power, this is not quite the same conspiracy that relentlessly stalks the forces of goodness and reason in books like “Bias” and “Slander,” yet, for his purpose, it will do.

Sullivan then selectively edits Mr. Rall's essay to, more dramatically, make his point and defeat the writer’s own. Giving us his assurance, with no provided link, that those quoted are “the money lines.”

But, as a discussion of responsibility for Senator Wellstone’s death, the actual money line, it seems to me, in Mr. Rall's essay is this: “Odds are overwhelmingly in favor of a natural or mechanical explanation for the crash of Paul Wellstone's plane.”

Whatever the writers’ criticisms of the Bush administration may be, Mr. Sullivan doesn’t answer them. Nor does it occur to him, any more than it would any other partisan, to try to address and allay the distrust that is these writers’ real subject. His argument, at heart, is one that, without reflection, is trotted out to cover any circumstance -- not that the opposition is wrong or mistaken in the particular, but that, in its general nature, it is morally wanting, false, and “other.”

That is paranoia at work.

And, despite Mr. Sullivan’s sophistication, it is the same kind of paranoia that makes our political conversation routinely absurd, and reflexively dismissive. For instance, by labeling the 52% of voters, overwhelmingly middle and working class, who did not vote for Mr. Bush in the last election as a shadowy “elite,” that does not share “our” values. Or, at best, implying that large numbers, even a majority, of citizens are profoundly foolish dupes of that elite -- that has overtaken our schools, emptied our churches, weakened our resolve, ruined our marriages, and contributed to the delinquency of our children.

It is also the kind of paranoia that can whip normally decorous partisans, many on the public payroll, into a frenzied mob determined to stop the legal counting of votes and discount the democratic voice of other citizens. That can loudly condemn, on no evidence other than self-interest, the judgement of one court as corruptly partisan, and, at the same time, lead another court to abandon its established principles in order to preemptively save us from the potentially messy consequences of democracy itself.

Like Mr. Sullivan, I would like to relegate destructive paranoia to the fringes of our political life, or assign it to only one side of the political bench. But, as a reasonable American I know, from experience and history, that, along with greed, ambition, arrogance, cynicism and, yes, even lust, it abides among the powerful as surely as among the rest of us.

I also know that paranoia, one of the most self-justifying human conditions, has done terrible things, and can be counted on to do them again.

Given the state of the physical evidence in the Wellstone crash, as it is now being reported, whether or not the Senator's death was caused by some intentional human agency may be something reasonable people are unlikely to ever, as a matter of absolute fact, be able to ascertain. As with so many things in life and politics, arguments against or for foul play must therefore ultimately rely, not on material fact, but rather, as Mr. Sullivan quite accurately states, on “reasonableness.”

But what, when fact is missing, or in dispute, does “reasonableness” rely on?

The answer to that is “trust.” Something that, in terms of this administration, despite the unwillingness of Mr. Sullivan and others to acknowledge it, many Americans lost in the wreck of the last election -- and that no amount of sifting through the evidence, or partisan arguments and rationales, can ever recover.

The plain fact is this: Bush partisans aggressively used all the levers of powers at their disposal to stop the vote count in Florida and gain the presidency. And, no matter what those partisans may wish to tell themselves, the people they used those powers against weren’t some conspiratorial elite or degraded minority trying to grab illegitimate power – they were millions of ordinary Americans like me, exercising, proudly, the legitimate, important, and only, political power we possess.

In positing politics as war, Mr. Bush’s party made America the enemy.

And if that isn’t both paranoia and a cause for it, what is?

Friday, August 09, 2002

This letter to the New York Times, in response to an op-ed suggesting that a solution to the current problems of the stock market would be to encourage workers to invest more money in their retirement accounts, makes some points that I think are germaine to the current corporate scandals, and points up some of the consequences of an increasingly powerless, unorganized work force:

To the Editor:

Re "To Encourage Recovery, Encourage Investors," by Muriel Siebert (Op-Ed, Aug. 6):

As a former employee in a mid-sized Fortune 500 company, I watched for years as executives cut capital spending to meet or exceed profit projections. I saw research and development cut, as well as training. I saw the "old guard" ousted through quiet, targeted layoffs and replaced with cheaper, inexperienced 20-somethings.

Now Ms. Siebert asks us to double our investments in these empty hulks. Dream on.
C. L. FINCHER Little Rock, Ark., Aug. 6, 2002


In recent years, workers have stopped trying to protect their interests in the workplace, and have instead, contented themselves with thinking that their interests would best be served by investing in the market.

Recent events should tell us that workers cannot expect investing to make up for their unwillingness to protect their actual earning power, still the most important source of genuine middle class prosperity.

In this era of weak unions and eroding worker power, the weakening of protections that unions once provided, and sought to have codified into law for all workers, in fact, contributes to the environment in which the corporate scandals we've recently seen, like Enron, happen.

How? By creating increased pressure to go along to get along, an unwillingness to question authority, the inability, really, to question higher ups without putting one's job in jeopardy. Weak worker protections create an environment in which internal politics rule, and no one is accountable.

The practice of "rank and yank" -- followed by Enron and other corporate criminals -- is supposed to ensure that quality people rise to the top, and that unproductive people are eliminated. But, it doesn't take much thought to realize that, in practice, it most likely has the opposite effect. Why? Because questioning those who are doing the ranking becomes a very dangerous behavior. What is really most likely to be most rewarded in "rank and yank" performance reviews is an employees willingness to be a "team player" and get with the program -- no matter how flawed, and even corrupt, the program may be.

My father was a union organizer in the 30s. He came of age in the worst days of the Depression. In that terrible time, union organizing offered hope and focus, and laid the groundwork for real gain when times changed and conditions improved.

The generations that inherited that legacy, perhaps because those gains were inherited and handed to them, rather than fought for, and because, thanks to the unions, they had become routine in the workplace, haven't felt, for a long time now, erroneously I think, that they needed to look out for their own self-interest more effectively, and have, all in all, been less willing to rock the boat in the workplace.

Many, in fact, have bought into what I believe is a mistaken notion; that collective action, such as union membership, is the opposite of empowering. That it conflicts with the independent, entrepreneurial spirit that we Americans so admire. And that it is unworkable in the fast-paced, constantly changing modern workplace.

The truth, it seems to me, is quite the contrary. My own father was a highly skilled craftsman, one of the elite in his field, who worked all over the country and the world -- for hundreds of employers -- in the course of his career. He understood that in our capitalist economy nothing, including a union, could ever guarantee you a job. And that economic survival depended first and foremost on the quality of your skills, and your ability to adapt to constantly changing economic circumstances. But, he also understood that, even for the exceptionally skilled, only a union could, and was necessary to, guarantee that you received both fair compensation for those skills, and,just as important, the reliable and consistent benefits that make adapting to changing circumstances possible.

In light of the current corporate scandals, and the ill consequences they've had for workers, it may be time for this generation of workers to learn the lesson the Depression generation knew well: that there are natural, unavoidable conflicts between the best interests of workers and the best interest of owners -- even white collar, technical and professional workers -- and that workers themselves must, together, take the initiative to create the tools that allow for their interests to be well-represented in a negotiated resolution of those conflicts.

My Dad was one of the most independent-minded humans you will ever meet. Which is exactly why he valued the union. It gave him power in the workplace that even exceptional skills cannot really provide. In fact, the way he saw it, without the union, work and success would be MORE dependent on factors that had nothing to do with skill -- such as his ability to ingratiate himself, and a willingness to go along to get along. Without his union, he would not have had the power to criticize how the job was being handled, the quality of the work, the product being produced, the work environment. My dad had a name for the strategies that people today are advised to use to get and keep employment and decent compensation -- the networking, forming connections, ingratiating oneself with the powers that be, etc. He called it "ass-kissing."

Too much "ass-kissing" -- among managers, executives, politicians -- and workers -- and not enough accountability is exactly the heart of the problem we face today.

If employees and shareholders don't hold the corporations they work for accountable, who will? And if corporations aren't accountable, how much value will investing them with our labor and our savings really provide?






Wednesday, August 07, 2002

The news from the Mideast is, day by day, becoming more unbearable. True friends and supporters of Israel are weeping at the misery and devastation Sharon's policies are bringing to its streets and shops and universities -- no one and nowhere is safe, not even the babe in his mother's arms or the joyous celebration of a wedding party.

Sharon sows wave after wave of high-tech destruction on Palestine, and Israel reaps wave after wave of escalating terror. Far from stopping the suicide bombings, his policies have encouraged them. No matter how many of the enemy he destroys, there are always more willing to rise up and destroy in turn. Every day brings reports of new terror bombings, more victims, more reasons for implacable hatred on both sides.

The hard line isn't working. That's undeniable at this point.

Wise men never mistake revenge for security or allow mutual destruction to become the only option. Sharon is not a wise man.

He has allowed his nation's overwhelming power in relation to the enemy to seduce him into creating conditions in which the enemy has nothing left to lose. But those are the very conditions from which the weak draw their greatest strength -- you cannot stop terror with simple brutish power, only feed it. Step by step, whether it is, as some say, his intention or not, Sharon is marching toward a point where his only option will be genocide.

Monday, July 08, 2002

It's a truism of conservative thought that this country is in dire need of more religion in public life. But, what if the religion most commonly practiced is debased, flaccid, self-serving? With no moral vigor and no ethical base? This thought occurred to me while reading a report in the Houston Chronicle on the executives of Enron that contained this quote from Ken Lay; "Good will ultimately prevail."

Despite all their religiousity, it seems to me, this is the fatal flaw of this generation of conservatives, especially the Southern, Christian business types: They have no moral judgement. No sense of right and wrong. To them, "good" is "what's good for me" and "right" is "what works in my favor."

Their sense of a "personal" God is all about "me." It's a primitive concept of God as a personal favor-granter.

The hard work of determining their moral obligation to others, of making difficult and, when required, self-sacrificing choices for the greater good or the good of others they are obligated to (such as stock holders and employees), is beyond them. It is "if it feels good, do it" wrapped up in a smug, self-satisfied assurance that whatever feels good to them will be all right with Jesus.

Personal faith can be a great boon to individuals, personally. But it is meaningless in terms of ordering our public life -- the world of mutual obligation and commitment. For that, you need ethics.

Friday, June 28, 2002

My recent lack of postings reflects the fact that this is one of the busiest times of the year for the small business I run with my husband. The computer has been occupied with clearing away a backlog of data entry and the personal time I've had to devote to thinking, reading and writing has been limited.

But, by next week my schedule should open up. I plan to spend a bit of that extra time making this site more interactive -- with links to other sites and a mechanism for feedback.

There's a lot going on in the broader world at the moment, and I would like to comment on it. And, read the comments of others in return.

Until that happens, I'll fill you in with a little autobiography: The person behind this blog is an ex-advertising copywriter and marketing professional who runs a small business catering to one of the thousands of niche enthusiasms that fuel the American economy. In this case, restoration and performance parts for old Chrysler cars and trucks. Our specialty is kits that allow our customers to put great big engines in light-weight cars and enjoy all the fun that ensues from that. Not a very politically correct occupation in the age of global warming, I'll admit. But then, another way of looking at it is that we're in the business of automobile re-cycling, aren't we?

If someone brighter than us ever comes up with a fuel-efficient, environment friendly, powerful and cost-effective alternative to the combustion engine -- that could be retro-fitted into older automobiles -- we would be just the people to come up with the mounting systems to help our customers make the swap. $60,000 hybrids and more efficient mass transit may be the right solution for Blue State suburbanites, but, a $10,000 engine (and various required accessories) that a shadetree mechanic can install in that $750 clunker that's propped up on blocks at his brother-in-law's place, might be a more realistic way to entice auto-dependent, small town and rural Americans into the anti-pollution, energy-conservation camp.

Just a thought.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Some thoughts for our times:

“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” - Thomas Jefferson, 1814

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is
destroyed.”
-- U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864 (letter to Col. William F. Elkins)

“Great corporations exist only because they are created and safeguarded by our institutions; and it is our right and our duty to see that they work in harmony with these institutions. . . . The first requisite is knowledge, full and complete; knowledge which may be made public to the world.” - Theodore Roosevelt, 1901

“The economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. . . In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1936

Monday, June 17, 2002

My printer isn't working. It's an HP Color Laserjet that always makes a big production out of getting itself started in the morning. Lots of whirling, grinding, calibrating, honks and whistles and groans -- before it finally flashes its little "ready" sign. The whole production is too drawn out and pretty annoying. But this morning, no production at all. Dead silence. No lights, no whistles, no printer.

I've got a ton of stuff in the work day ahead of me that requires its cooperation. But its down for the count, out on strike. I've explored all the options I can think of to get it to wake up and get to work. I'm hoping that when the rest of our tiny crew wakes up and turns up for work they'll have some more ideas. I do not want to buy a new printer today.

My thoughts have been taken up with my personal, family and work life recently. My feelings about what is going on in the broader Republic have been, in some ways, too overwhelming for comment.

What is America anyway? What do I think it is? In what ways have I been wrong?

Why does what America is matter so much to me?

On a different note: Mickey Kaus and Josh Marshall have been objecting to the concept of "Homeland Security" as vaguely Germanic and unAmerican sounding. And Kaus has been soliticiting alternative names for the government's new department. What's wrong, I wonder, with the term "civil defense." It's a term that's served us well for as long as I can remember (and that's a fairly long time.) Why not Department of Civil Defense? (I not only object to "Homeland," like Kaus and Marshall do, I object even more to "Security." It's a term, it seems to me, for wishful thinkers and weenies.

Saturday, June 08, 2002

Mark Morford, in his SFGate column yesterday, touched on something that I have been thinking about too; the strange vulnerability President Bush projects. Although he did not use that word exactly, he did describe, accurately I think, the phenomenon:

"...there they are, trying so hard. Especially Bush. Look at that earnest, constipated, caught-in-the-headlights expression. Trying trying trying. Please do not hate him."

And:

."..the common wisdom: It is unpatriotic to criticize the president ...

Or rather, you can criticize if you like, but Bush's image is now being so carefully controlled you feel a little ashamed and slightly guilty doing so, like that feeling you'd get if you teased, say, a quadriplegic. Or a child."


Normally, we Americans treat our Presidents badly. Very badly. It is not, usually, a job for the thin-skinned and sensitive. Which is why there is something disorienting about this administration's constant admonishments against criticism, and their quick to take offense, defensive response to even its mildest forms. Plus, his handlers work 24/7 to provide a steady stream of non-stop excuses or overly detailed explanations for everything and anything: Did the President seem snappish at times in Europe? It was jet lag. Did he stumble and hit his head on a table? Trot out the medical experts and give us a long explanation of how this was really caused by his excellent state of physical fitness.

The truth is, the more "carefully controlled" the President's image is, the more excuses and explanations and spin applied to even the most minute events, the more vulnerable and childlike he seems. The more scripted and handled and protected from the rough and tumble of the political and public arena he is, the lonelier and weaker he appears. The more anxiously they try to protect him from the normal sorts of political abuse, the more anxiously we wonder if he can "take" the normal sorts of political stress.

His army of image spinners are hoping, of course, to present us with John Wayne; a strong, plain spoken man of the West. But what we're getting, at best, is Roy Rogers; a cleaned-up cowboy with a whiff of the nursery about him who never gets his hands, or his richly embroidered and fringed shirt, dirty. Or, at worse, a Roy Rogers fan; a little boy in felt cowboy hat and tooled boots playing alone with his shiny cap pistol.

Morford complains that this over-protectiveness doesn't allow us to "hate" the President. My complaint is that it doesn't allow us to laugh at him.

Morford's column: http://www.sfgate.com/columnists/morford/

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

"I tolerate with the utmost latitude the right of others to differ from me in opinion without imputing to them criminality. I know too well the weakness and uncertainty of human reason to wonder at its different results. Both of our political parties, at least the honest part of them, agree conscientiously in the same object--the public good; but they differ essentially in what they deem the means of promoting that good. One side...fears most the ignorance of the people; the other, the selfishness of rulers independent of them. Which is right, time and experience will prove." Thomas Jefferson

I've been on vacation

Three days of sunshine, a beautiful view of the Sound, no phones, no news, lots of much needed sleep.

It was perfect.

Then a mad day of catching up with everything left undone for my business.

All of it has made George W. Bush, current events, the various crisis here and abroad seem exceedingly unreal and disconnected from me, personally.

But, of course, it's not. The country over the last 17 months has been in the process of profound transformation. Obviously that will mean something for all of us at some time or another. Although what exactly it will mean for each of us personally is impossible to predict. Can a thought I express here, now, have some surprising, unexpected, unwanted, unpredictable consequences years down the road? As the result of new monitoring of political speech and increased paranoia among Americans in general? What will the increasing loss of confidence in the ethics and honesty of American enterprise and global corporations mean in the long term -- to my customers? to my business? to America's relations with the world? to our economy in the long term? How will climate change, and the course of non-resistance the country appears to have decided will be its response to it, affect our future? What does it mean to be an average American in an era when the idea of democracy appears to be losing its appeal to so many -- especially so many of our most influential citizens? If we, at the highest, and, surprisingly, lowest, levels, no longer believe in the possibility and efficacy of compromise, the wisdom that can arise from honest conflict among a multitude of views, the necessity of tempering the "selfishness of rulers" (as Jefferson said) with the modifying influence of "the people," what do we believe in?

Do we believe in W? In Cheney? In Rumsfeld? In Ashcroft? Are we to abandon our faith and confidence in each other and place it all in the hands of a few men somehow deemed, or at least extolled as, wiser, or of a better cast of character, than others? When we abandon a politics of issues, interests and conflicts -- aren't we left with nothing but a politics of personality and power? And isn't that something extraordinarily close to what our forefathers despised and overthrew?

The current administration took office with a firm conviction that much that was done, through democratic means, in the past had to be undone. And with long-cherished, long-deferred ideas of what they would, could, should do. They've moved with energy, with disdain for consultation with anyone outside their limited circle, with the firm conviction that it was not part of their job to respond to the wishes and perceived needs of the people -- but rather to shape the wishes and needs of the people -- to translate their plans into actions.

There will, of course, be unintended consequences to all of this. What will those consequences be? How will we, average Americans, who still, nominally, retain some democratic power, if we choose to exercise it, respond to those consequences?

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

What is it with the Republican haste to mythologize and canonize their Presidents? Reagan barely stepped from the political stage before his fellow Republicans started campaigning to re-name half the country in his honor and slap his amiable mug up on Mt. Rushmore. With George W. Bush, the campaign to place him among the immortals started the moment he stepped into office, and then, after 9/ll, took on the characteristics of a tsunami. For months now, the country has been awash in a sea of purple prose, convoluted rationales and immodest comparisons from conservative commentators terrified that we just might, left to our own devices, fail to grasp the greatness of the political newbie from Texas.

But of all the arguments for W's greatness put forth so far, none strikes me as quite so lame, yet imaginative, as Michael Kelly's, in a recent essay in which he muses on past Presidents he deems politically brilliant "moral monsters." All -- FDR, Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton (of course)-- by the way, Democrats, with the exception of Nixon, whose actions, unlike the others, in Kelly's view, arose not from moral failing but only from a "common man patriotism." Nixon he insists, in his disrespect for the law and abuse of power, is "one of us" only "as seen in a glass, blackly."

The others in this select group, to Kelly, “all were maniacally driven men. They got the presidency because, in large measure, they wanted it so much that they were, in a sense, mad; they were great because they were monsters.”

As for the rest of our Presidents, they, he tells us, "fall into three groups: (1) The mediocrities: the great majority of the leaders who were not monsters but also not great. (2) The true rarities: those who actively pursued greatness and who yet managed to be both great and good (that is, non-maniacal, non-neurotic, moral); Washington, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, I’d say. (3) The accidents: those who were great because greatness was thrust on them, not because they were driven to greatness."

The purpose of Kelly’s categorizing, of course, is to set up his rationale for Bush's "accidental greatness." And here it is:

"All of which brings up the question of George W. Bush. He is clearly not of the monster class. His critics would argue that, just as clearly, he belongs with the mediocrities. But there is by now some real evidence that he is something more than that, that he is one of the accidents, one of those who is not driven to greatness but who wander to it and rise to it.

You get the sense with Bush that he became president because he realized, once he grew up, that it was what he was supposed to do - what with dad, and all."

Hmmm.

Isn’t the compulsion to follow in dad’s footsteps as maniacal and ambitious in its own way as any other? Doesn’t the aggressive, bare knuckled example of the Florida recount show us a man as ruthlessly competitive as any man who has ever held the office? Far from indicating modesty, doesn’t the assumption that becoming President is what one “was supposed to do” indicate outsized arrogance? Can there, in fact, be anything more arrogant and “mad” than the assumption, in these grave and dangerous times, that leadership of the country, and the world, is yours simply by accident of birth? Rather than by experience, commitment and energy?

The presidents Kelly calls “monsters” were undeniably ambitious men, with huge flaws as well as virtues. But they were more than simply ambitious for themselves – they were ambitious for the country. Most important, with the exception perhaps of Nixon, whose ambitions for the country were mostly global rather than domestic, they ambitiously sought to better the lives of their fellow citizens. These men sought the power of the Presidency because, among other reasons, they had a vision of an America that was fairer, more secure, more compassionate and endlessly capable of both great and good things.

Wanting to please dad is not only not a "great" reason for wanting the Presidency, it is not a good enough reason. The only legitimate reason is because you want to, and believe you can, do great things for the American people.

Nobody “wanders” into greatness. First, they have to have a vision of what greatness – not for themselves but for the country -- is, and then they have to work at it. Hard.

Whether or not someone who was pushing 50 before realizing it was time he "grew up" can now develop the capacity to work that hard is still an unanswered question. Whether or not a man with such a brief history of engagement in the world can work as smart as he needs to, is another one.

The people who answer those questions won't be our contemporary pundits. They will be our progeny.

It is their security, prosperity and liberty that will be this President's legacy. And it will be that legacy, not his personal charm, and their future, not his personal inheritance, by which he is judged.

by esme