Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Democratic Convention

This is the week of the Democratic Convention, a time for Democrats to come together and present Barack Obama and his family to the American people. It is a time for Barack Obama to take his appeal to a higher level, by getting more specific about where he wants to lead America, in contrast to where George Bush has taken us and where John McCain will follow.

The Obama campaign recognizes his greatest vulnerability with undecided voters is his "otherness", the perception that he is different. Tonight Michelle Obama's brother will introduce her and she will have the task of showing the American people how much her family, Barack's family and their own family have in common with the rest of us. Mrs. Obama rose from the working class roots of an intact family to earn college scholarships, which combined with student loans, resulted in her becoming a successful attorney. She and Barack have two young daughters. Her story is the embodiment of the American dream and should be an inspiration to all of us, yet some people see her accomplishments as a threat - because she is a woman, because she has self-confidence and because she is black.

If all Democrats vote for Obama, he should be able to get elected. Possible defectors are disgruntled Hillaryites and some white Catholics. Hill and Bill will be blabbing on two successive nights. As if the drawn out primary process was not enough, now we have to go through some sort of placing of Hillary's name in nomination and maybe even a roll call vote. This is supposed to be a simple process. The loser announces intent to vote for the winner and urges all supporters to do the same. But the Clintons seem to be able to make a soap opera out of everything. The farther they are from the Obama White House, the better for America.

Joe Biden was a good choice for VP. He should be able to connect with white working class Catholics and he will be an effective, pleasant attacker of McCain. He already scored a nice shot when he talked about Americans sitting down at the kitchen table to figure out how they were going to be able to pay their bills, and how John McCain first has to figure out which one of his seven kitchens to sit in.

Barack's acceptance speech will be outdoors, in the stadium in Denver. It will likely be an excellent speech, but it needs to convince listeners that this great speaker can also be a great leader and can take us where we want to go. In the Twentieth Century, Democrat and Republican nominees for President and Vice President delivered 100 acceptance speeches. According to the opinion of scholars reported at the very interesting Top 100 American Speeches of the 20th century, only three of those speeches made the list, Adlai Stevenson in 1952, Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Geraldine Ferraro in 1984. You may have noticed all three of those candidates lost the election.

Nine other Twentieth Century convention speeches made the top 100 list, eight of them Democrat. Three keynoters scored, Barbara Jordan in 1976 [she also delivered the 1996 keynote], Mario Cuomo in 1984 and Ann Richards in 1988. Top non-keynote speeches were delivered by Jesse Jackson twice (1984 and 1988), Elizabeth Glaser in 1992, Teddy Kennedy in 1980 [Teddy has 4 of the top 100, brother John 6 and brother Robert another one], and Hubert Humphrey back in 1948. The sole speech from a Republican convention was not by a politician, but by AIDS activist Mary Fisher, who in 1992 broke the Republican silence on that subject.

Barack Obama will be accepting the nomination on the anniversary of the number one speech of the Twentieth Century, the "I Have A Dream Speech" by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. John from Phoenix and I ended a visit to Washington, DC the day before the King speech, moving on to New York City. As we drove through the Holland Tunnel into the city, we were flagged over by a greeter working for the city. His job was to spot out of state license plates and offer logistical help to tourists. He noticed our plate said Washington and told us he would be going down there "tomorrow for the big march". I vaguely knew there was to be some sort of civil rights demonstration, but had not given any thought to participating or observing. As they say, "If I had known then what I know now". But actually, I might not have put up with the crowd to hear Dr. King, since I had heard him speak the year before at an appearance at the University of Washington. I attended that speech as an assignment for a speech class I was taking, and my interest was in studying his impressive style of speech rather than the content. I hope Barack is able to impress America with his speech, both on style and on content. I won't be in Denver, but I will be watching it live.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Race in the Race

I have been dragging my feet for days on writing a piece about the role race is playing in the campaign between McCain and Obama, using the above title. Now I just finished reading an op ed piece in the NY Times online, by Charles M. Blow, entitled "Racism and the Race". Mr. Blow refers to polling on the disinclination of white voters to vote for a black candidate and on how many people those same white voters know who would not vote for a black candidate. The results reported are quite disturbing.

My prompting to write was spawned by the McCain ad with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, dismissing Obama as a similar celebrity phenomenon of no substance. To me the ad contained an appeal to white prejudice against black men in relationships with white blonde women. Race is a political card and so it will be played. But it was the McCain campaign that accused the Obama campaign of playing the race card when Obama said that some people are concerned about voting for a candidate who does not look like the face on the dollar bill. Technically that may have been a playing of the race card, but if so, it was a defensive play, attempting to address the attitude found on the polls referred to in the NYT op ed piece.

Whites are defensive, insecure and scared by discussions of race. A minority race candidate in a majority white electorate makes a mistake if he initiates a racial discussion. Obama has not made that mistake. Race will be brought up increasingly and more abusively as the election draws nearer, financed by disgusting mongers like those behind the Swift Boat disgraces aimed at John Kerry.

Racial code words like "arrogant" and "kid" [substituting for "boy"] have already been used against Obama, the latter by Bill Clinton. Obama has to be careful about not defending himself too aggressively, lest he be portrayed as another "angry black man", as his former pastor was. Surrogates could be employed to make defenses against racial attacks, but that has a triple negative effect, reminding voters of the racial difference of the black candidate, distracting attention from other important issues and reinforcing the inner racial apprehensions of white voters.

This election should easily go to Obama. Democrats are in demand. Change is in the wind. Obama is eloquent, McCain clumsy. Obama and the Democrats have progressive plans, McCain and the Republicans offer only more of the same failures. The race is Obama's to lose, and if he does lose it, it will probably be because of race.