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.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Final Democrat Debate

Along with about ten million viewers I watched what hopefully will be the final debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I agree with the media critics who are saying this was the worst Presidential debate production ever. ABC seemed more interested in trying to boost its ratings than in trying to help voters understand the positions of the candidates on the issues of importance. The debate was interrupted numerous times to run promotions for ABC entertainment shows, and the first 45 minutes of questions were all about extraneous matters which have already been overplayed in the media and have no actual importance to the understanding of the positions of the candidates on the top issues. More than enough has been said about Jeremiah Wright, bitter American comments, flag lapel pins, radicals from 40 years ago, Hillary's pretend heroism in Bosnia and questions of whether she can be trusted. We did not need 45 minutes more of it at the outset of what will probably be the last head to head go around between these two Democrats.

In that first 45 minutes the two questioners, the usually pleasant Charles Gibson, who seemed like an old bumbler trying to act like a charming youth, and diminutive George Stephanopoulos, a former PR man for Hillary, who should have declined to participate because of appearances of conflict of interest, acted like they were auditioning for some sleazy pseudo-journalism show entitled "Gotcha". George even sunk so low as to submit a question from Fox News farce Sean Hannity, about Barack serving on a charity board on which a Weatherman radical from 40 years ago also served. Barack pointed out that if limited association with an aged radical is of interest, then President Clinton having pardoned two former Weathermen might be of greater interest.

The debate was the first in seven weeks and just a few days before the important Pennsylvania primary. The interest that led to the high number of viewers was pre-existing and rather than being stimulated by the way ABC conducted the program, the audience was insulted and discouraged. Two thirds of the 45 minutes was spent attacking Obama, giving him reason to be perturbed, but I think he connected best with frustrated voters when he expressed his disappointment that we were not getting to hear about the issues that really matter in this country and that the approach reflected in the first 45 minutes is just what needs to be changed in this country because it turns so many people off.

There were some specifics in the last, more substantive part of the debate, that have not received as much attention as they would have without the first 45 minutes of throw aways. On taxes, both candidates may have gone a little too far in pledging to not raise taxes on incomes under $200-250,000. On the middle east, Hillary seemed to be going way too far in saying we should try to deter wars there by announcing we will intervene in any conflicts that take place in the region.

Negative campaigning hurts the target, but it also hurts the attacker. As long as Hillary keeps it up, and the media play into it, the Democrats are being hurt. Pennsylvania should have been an easy win for Hillary. It has the third oldest population in the country and working people there are suffering more than in most other states. She is expected to win, but her margin of victory may not be very high, which should increase the pressure on super delegates to endorse Obama and on Hillary to get out of the way.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bitter Speech and Annie Oakley

John from Phoenix, in a comment posted to the Sense piece, "Race and Religion on the Campaign Trail", has written, "I read that now we have a new Obama speech to discuss, the 'Bitter Speech', and I hope to read your views on it. Here's my take: I was delighted with what he said. What he said is true, and I liked the way he said it the first time better that his rewriting of it after he received so much criticism. Still, I liked that he did not retract the essence of the statement, just tried to take the edges off it. We all know there is a lot of hate out there, and it is not all in small towns. Whole neighborhoods of Phoenix could be described by Obama's words. And in the more enlightened neighborhoods of Phoenix, there are a lot of people who are reluctant to express their hatred, but seethe quietly." John ended his comment, "And now Obama has spoken. I may vote for him after all."

Speaking at a closed door fund raiser in California, Obama said many people are bitter over the economic situation and cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them. As John points out, Obama has stood by what he said, though he has been explaining that he could have said it more clearly. Some conservatives, and the Clinton campaign, have been saying this shows Obama is an elitist knocker of religion and an opponent of gun ownership. Hillary has pathetically been sanctimoniously recalling in public a wonderful time her Dad took her out to show her how to shoot a rifle. Her expedient embrace of gun ownership as if she were a charter NRA member has led Obama to chuckle that she is now talking like she is some kind of Annie Oakley who in addition to strapping on her six shooter also spends her weekends in the duck blinds.

It is pretty hard to miss the irony in the two most recent attacks on Obama. First he was criticized for staying in church rather than walking out on his pastor, and now he is accused of being anti-religious. What Obama meant in the "bitter" comment was that it is understandable people seek support from their religious views in times of economic trouble. Religious people who are struggling financially understand what he was saying.

Obama was being honest when he linked guns and xenophobia. Americans whose jobs are in jeopardy or already lost are even more likely to be hostile to immigrants and foreigners who they see as taking away the jobs of Americans. In "Bowling for Columbine", Michael Moore's interview with Charlton Heston showed that Heston's idea of the ultimate need for gun ownership rights is as protection against African-Americans. America's slave holders relied on their guns to protect themselves and their property (the slaves themselves whom the holders claimed to own). Now, as Obama was pointing out, those who feel threatened by immigrants are turning to their guns for protection. Obama has often before warned us about the mistake of blaming immigrants for our economic troubles, while reminding us we are all in the economy together and must work together to make it better. This time, in linking guns to xenophobia, he tapped into one of the conservative hot button issues.

Most interesting to me about this whole flap is how readily Hillary tried to make herself into the non-elitist gun lover. All this farce does is show her to be even more duplicitous and untrustworthy. Her lead in Pennsylvania has been shrinking and those bitter people of whom Obama was speaking may actually respect him enough for speaking the truth to consider voting for him.

By the way, the real Annie Oakley had a fascinating and quite admirable life, particularly for a woman of her times, as told in this Wikipedia article.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Understanding Hillary

In spite of not writing here recently, I am still tracking the campaign closely, and even though it seems apparent Hillary has lost the nomination, I am still trying to figure her out as a person. I am reading last year's "A Woman in Charge", by Carl Bernstein, and am up to the point where Bill has decided to go ahead with his 1992 run for the White House, and he and Hillary go on "60 Minutes" to address questions of his sexual wanderings.

John from Phoenix has just posted a response to my February 28 posting of "The Fleeting Audacity of Inevitability", wherein I addressed the apparent failure of the Hillary Clinton campaign. His thoughtful comments always stimulate me to respond. Because our current exchange is appended to an article from over a month ago and is likely to be overlooked, I have decided to reproduce it here.

I did not respond to this because it annoyed me so much. But since you haven't posted anything for a while, I'll make a couple of comments:

1. Do you not feel comfortable with Hillary because she is cuckold? Or do you not feel comfortable with her because she made a rational assessment of her life and career and decided she would do better by standing by her man? I would like to put Bill's puerile indiscretions outside of rational political discourse, but that appears not to be possible. Who cares if Hillary stayed with Bill because she loves him? That question makes me gag and is appropriate only for soap opera viewers. What is important for Hillary and what is important to the citizens of this country is how she handled a crisis in her life. That reflects on how she would handle national and international crises. I think she did very well.

2. Because we all agreed that a black man would be chosen before a white woman does not imply that that is the correct moral choice. It merely reflects the perceived male bias of the American electorate by the three people who responded. Personally I identify with the women suffragists who were outraged that former male slaves got the right to vote long before women of all color who helped create this country did.

3. To suggest that Bill Clinton would deliberately undermine his wife's campaign is silly. Of course he wants her to succeed. The battle you suggest will come later after she is elected. Will she or Bill rule? I bet on her ruling.

4. The wishful thinking about change without substance is pathetic. The elections of John Kenney and Ronald Reagan come to mind. The former was neutral and the latter harmful to the US. Let's give professionals the job that they are trained for. Obama is not trained and Clinton is. It is simple as that.

John from Phoenix

My response:

1. Hillary married Bill for love and for the power she expected him to make available to them through politics. She knew he had a wayward libido, but she calculated that into her decision to marry him. Apparently she miscalculated the extent of his wandering urge, but when it threatened to derail the power train, she vigorously joined in the war against the derailers, which included personal attacks on the various women with whom he dallied. Staying in the marriage through his various affairs was her business, but purposely misleading the voters, when Bill was running for President, about the extent of his problem and the possibility it would come up again was unfair to the electorate. I share the view of the majority of voters, that Hillary is calculating and not quite trustworthy. How one handles the foolish sexual affair of a spouse pales by comparison with how one would handle an international crisis. Rather than giving Hillary credit for handling Monicagate, I fault her for fooling us (and herself) into ignoring the warning signs.

2. American voters seem more prejudiced against African Americans than against women. At the highest elected level next to the Presidency, the US Senate, there are several women, but Barack Obama is only the third African American Senator since Reconstruction. The Presidency may be different in the eyes of some Americans, because of the Commander-in-Chief role. Having some women rise in the military and serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff would help overcome that. African Americans and women were both denied the vote until the US Constitution was amended, first for African American male voters following the Civil War, and then finally for all women in 1920. Both amendments came in their time, after long struggles to obtain them. Victims of unfair discrimination succeed best when they unite, even if it means recognizing that the time to end one form of discrimination may come before another. We may soon elect an African American President, and in time we will elect a woman.

3. Bill and Hillary are a team, and electing her brings him along. That is bothersome to many voters, like me, who do not want Bill back in the White House, even if he is just the spouse and she is the one with the final say.

4. I am not sure how one trains to be a professional President of the United States. We do not have such a program. We also do not seem to agree on who were our best Presidents, at least among the more recent ones. Presidents seem to spend much of their time in office reacting to developments, sometimes rather unexpected, sometimes perhaps partially fabricated. The agenda proclaimed on the stump often morphs into a more ideologically driven wielding of power and then settles in to become a combination of practical politics and siege mentality. There is no other job in the country that comes even close in preparing one for the Presidency. Sometimes, like now, voters want a change, and they look for a candidate who appears more trustworthy and less likely to morph into a power hungry ideologue, one who will be guided by practicality and cooperation, rather than by obstinacy and defensiveness. That is the longing into which Barack Obama has tapped.