You Go, Joe!

October 17, 2008

Here’s a healthy sign:  Bidden denounced a Palin statement.  It has for me been weird hearing her highly inflammatory statements echoing through the news with nothing but denials by Obama and Biden.  Palin has been treated like a little girl who should not be treated severely.  This has given her a sort of immunity to make the most outlandish statements which seems to be mobilizing a segment of the population that everyone prefers not to talk about.

Today Biden called her out for apparently identifying areas of “real America” as apparently opposed to geographical pockets of sedition.  This of course is  (I thought) by now a hackneyed tactic of setting Americans against each other for political gain.  All you need to do is fill some people (a majority) with self-righteous contempt for others or promote righteous doubt about the legitimacy of others, including candidates.  (Palin informs us that Washington D.C. is not pro-America and cities should be viewed with suspicion.) It seems so transparent but it still seems to work to some degree.  At least the tactic does not appear to be effective with a majority of the people.  At least not right now.

Anyway, I say call demagoguery out.  This tactic needs to be aired and revealed for what it is.

Advertisements

A Mandate for Obama?

October 17, 2008

CNN reports that the only states that are still uncommitted (according to the polls) are six states that were for Bush in 2004.  They are now a toss up but if they all go to McCain he will still lose.  Nonetheless they are essential to a successful campaign and so McCain and Palin are forced to devote increasing precious time campaigning in these states, states which are historically linked to Republican candidates.

Again, as was the case with Hillary Clinton, Obama’s campaign seems better organized in the late stages of the campaign.  Clinton ran out of money and McCain is running out of time.  Assuming that he had several states in his pocket, McCain finds himself having to make last minute appearances in states where there has been heavy traffic by the other ticket.

McCain finds himself scrambling for the support of states which are necessary but not sufficient for success in November.  Meanwhile Obama is pressing the fight in these states, apparently fighting for a landslide victory.

CNN’s David Gergen says that the Obama’s purpose is to have a decisive victory so that he can claim a mandate which in turn will presumably enhance his ability to govern.

We haven’t heard about mandates in a while.  I don’t recall Bill Clinton talking about it but he certainly never acted like he had one. George W. Bush acted like he had a mandate (more than any president I can think of) but he certainly never had one.  Each election boiled down to disputed election results in one state.

Reagan claimed a mandate to get stuff through a largely Democratic Congress.  How would a mandate serve Obama?  Particularly with what is expected to be a larger majority of Democrats in Congress.

In Washington State we have a super-majority of Democrats in the legislature and have experienced a withering of  the party’s agenda.  Few voting Democrats express anything but disappointment with the Democrat-controlled Congress after 2006.

It would be very exciting if Obama were looking to claim a mandate of leadership within his party.  The party desperately needs direction.  It has been a long time since the party stood for something that you could identify and point to legislation for examples.  That may be a little broad, but I’ll bet it is true of at least 80% of people who are registered Democrats.

For twenty years or so the Republicans and the Democrats have been “pigs at the same trough” to quote William Greider.  Obama has proved himself as a campaigner; wouldn’t it be great to find that he is as good a leader?


Sarah Vowell in Seattle

October 17, 2008

On Monday at Town Hall Sarah Vowell read from her recent book “Wordy Shipmates.”  I attended the reading but had not read any of her books.  There are four previous books.  “Assassination Vacation” was probably the most popular.  It was on on the overstock table at Elliot Bay which means that the publisher expected a lot of sales and carries a vague hint of disappointment.

Sarah Vowell, as you probably know, early in her career worked with David Sedaris on Ira Glass’s show “This American Life,” and still occasionally does a piece for the radio show.  I find her little autobiographical pieces side-splittingly funny and her books have been highly recommended to me but have just never made it to the top of my reading list.

For all her public speaking and television and radio appearances, she is quite shy and reserved in public, at least on this stop of her book tour.  Nonetheless her reading and discussion afterwards was very enjoyable and made me bump her new book to the top of my reading list.

I’ve just started but can already recommend the book as a very engaging and unique look at American colonial history.  The breadth and originality of her associations with early writings and historical events is almost mesmerizing.  Pop culture, contemporary events and Puritanical doctrine seem to somehow blend in a way that enriches the reader’s understanding of all of them.

One of the things that has struck me is how two threads of the colonist’s doctrine have been unwoven from that fabric, one has been largely abandoned and the other used to justify things far from the minds of the Puritans.

The Puritans advocated a rich inner life of learning, reading, appreciation of history, science and literature (mostly Biblical).  They were creatures of the Age of Reason and avid writers, committed to the exchange of ideas.  They saw the colonies as a refuge from hostilities between nations.

This developed into our founding fathers’ abhorrence of “entangling liaisons” with other nations.  This prioritization of scholarly learning and the development of our understanding of science and literature does not seem to have taken a firm grip on today’s society.  Nor does the notion that in the interest of fostering this enrichment we ought to avoid becoming entangled with other countries.

The other thread was probably thought of at the time as a benign Christian notion.  I guess it still is but it has lost some of its “benign” luster.  Sarah Vowell’s book discusses the Massachusetts Bay colony, which was founded by Puritans faithful to England, people full of doubt and second thoughts about leaving.  They were fleeing persecution but searching for a Godly justification for the trip.

The official seal of the colony, brought over from England, has on it an Indian and the words “Come over and help us.”  A person glancing at the official documents of the day might get the impression that the trip was motivated by a heathen’s call for help.  Things certainly didn’t work out that way.

This call for help has echoed down the course of American history and heard at opportune times by our leaders.   It was heard by William McKinley who sent gunboats to Manila to Christianize Filipinos.  The ardor of this vision was not abated by the discovery shortly after arrival that the Philippines had been Catholic for two hundred years.  John Kennedy heard the same plea from the Vietnamese (at least from the ones at the south end of the country) and sent aircraft carriers to “help freedom defend itself.”  George W. Bush and Dick Cheney heard the same pleas.  Bush heard the people of Iraq crying to him for freedom and Cheney knew that we would be greeted as liberators.   Sarah Vowell reminds us that we have been hearing this for a long time.