Celebrations in DC and Seattle

November 10, 2008

Here’s an email from my daughter Amy, who works in Washington DC and was somewhat overwhelmed by the Tuesday night post-election celebration there. Below that is a copy of my reply to her  about the celebration here.

From Amy:

DC on election night was absolutely amazing.

I watched the election at a friend’s house in Maryland, then headed back into town after the speeches. As we got close to DC, we heard yelling and honking, that got louder as we rolled into the city. When we hit Capital Street, we decided that we should joint the celebration, so we rolled down the street honking, yelling, and waving to passing cars. Everyone in the cars were looking for people to shout to and didn’t seem to miss any opportunities. It was certainly the most collegial honking I have ever encountered in this city.

We parked the car at my apartment then walked up to U-Street. For people unfamiliar with DC, U Street is an historically African American that was a cultural center for much of the 20th century. It was Harlem before Harlem. It was also the center of the DC race riots, when many of the U Street businesses were destroyed. It was particularly poignant to see the celebration there on Tuesday night.

We spent two hours walking down U Street. When I say we walked down U Street, I mean we walked right down the middle of it (I’m talking yellow line). People drove their cars onto U Street then stopped them, leaving radios blaring. Cars were stopped on both sides of the street with people sitting and standing on top of the cars cheering and holding signs and chanting and honking. Walking down the street we walked by the cars high fiving everyone and cheering with them. Pedestrians were hugging, high fiving, and just erupting into spontaneous cheers together. (I haven’t hugged so many strangers since the 1995 playoffs.) People were chanting O-BAM-A, Yes-We-Can, and Si-Se-Puede (all, conveniently the same number of syllables I couldn’t help but notice), as well as general celebratory yelling. If someone started yelling or chanting, everyone around him/her would yell or chant in response.

A couple drummers set up shop on a corner and a huge group of people were jumping up and down (my kind of celebration) and chanting. It wasn’t aggressive jumping at all, just everyone celebrating together. I could go into the group do some jumping then come back out again. It was very cool. In the middle of another block, a giant ring of people, probably four or five people deep, were chanting O-BAM-A. I snuck in to get a closer look and two guys were break dancing to the chanting. They would pause and encourage the crowd to chant louder, then start dancing again. A young skinny white guy jumped in the middle of the group and started doing some decidedly un-break dancing and everyone cheered and chanted for him too.

It was without a doubt the most diverse celebration I have ever seen. It was diverse in every sense of the word. Beyond the racial diversity, I saw all kinds of people out–from goths to grandmas, and everyone was celebrating together, and happy. I saw parents out with their little kids (only three or four years old). A grandma-aged lady was in the in the front row of people watching and chanting for the break dancers. It was clear that everyone wanted to celebrate, but also to be there and experience history occurring. There seemed to be a feeling that everyone was experiencing something much bigger than themselves.

It was truly one of the most memorable and moving scenes I’ve ever witnessed. I took some pictures. They aren’t impressive photographically, but perhaps you can get a sense of the what was going on. http://picasaweb.google.com/amykoler/YesWeCan#


My reply:

It would be interesting to have a study of the celebrations in the different communities, then make bold generalizations about the places where the celebrations occurred. Seattle had a celebration break out on Broadway, near Seattle Central CC. There was merrymaking aplenty with a crowd of similar diversity, although weighted toward younger people and there were many fewer than the number of DC celebrants. When the police showed up and got out of their cars, people feared a confrontation, only to discover that many of the cops had left their vehicles to join in the dancing. Led by a drag queen, the throng marched to the area of the market to continue its revelry.

Startled and rather proud of this exhibition of politically correct glee, news media swarmed the group of celebrants, as SUVs and smart-looking vehicles arrived from the nether regions with occupants eager to join in the event. Encircled by media with periodic infiltration for an interview, the celebration became self aware and dissipated eventually. Nonetheless this may have been the first spontaneous street gathering and unlicensed parade since the Vietnam War. (I’m not counting the WTO activity as an unlicensed parade.) I can’t think of a time that the police joined such a party, except maybe at the end of the Second World War.

Alex, who was working as the Smith Tower night watchman, said that he saw groups of men walking by weeping, most of them homeless people on their way to the mission down the street.

Bush Foreign Policy: A Bee in a Jar

June 6, 2008

Last month from Israel Bush accused Obama of being a modern Nazi appeaser by proposing that diplomacy be attempted with Iran. John Bolton on Fox TV celebrated these words and denounced the appeasers who would engage in diplomacy with Iran. McCain jumped on the band wagon and called Obama naive for suggesting such a thing.

Today, about three weeks later Dana Perino said: “We are trying to solve this diplomatically” when asked about comments that Israel intends to attack Iran to disable the facilities our National Security Estimate said are benign. Isn’t this what Bush called appeasement? How can Bush in Israel of all places compare a country with Nazi Germany, reject diplomacy as even worthy of consideration, an blanch at Israel’s apparent intention to attack?

You sure get the impression of a lot of angry directionless buzzing from Washington DC. It seems like our direction though is governed, not by policy, but the shifting winds of politics and a changing sense of expedience.  Apparently Bush’s grandiose appeasement speech was intended merely as a political attack from foreign soil on a candidate for president of this country and not as a serious policy announcement.  (Thank goodness, I think.)

Cheap Political Tricks with Voting Rights.

May 9, 2008

Conservatism is a rich and distinguished political tradition. To me it is a shame to see it sullied by people serving up ill informed opinion garnished with fear and scandalous accusation. This blocks informed discussion and sacrifices mutual respect for some ill conceived short term political end.

Take the recent Supreme Court decision Crawford v. Marion County Election Board,. This involved a 2005 Indiana law that required registered voters to present a state or federal issued piece of identification before voting. There was a legislative concern about voter fraud but no documented instances of it , at least on any scale sufficient to cause concern. This devise was intended to thwart one person voting for another registered voter, sometimes called “in-person voter fraud.”. There was no documentation showing any sort of systemic problem or even any instance of it in Indiana. Nonetheless it is a legitimate governmental concern that the votes be cast by registered voters.

It was an unusual case in that there was no evidence of fraud and the plaintiff did not present a witness who would not be able to vote. So the arguments on both sides were purely legal. The state argued that the law was within the scope of legitimate legislative function, that it was not a deterrent to voting, and that it was nothing like a poll tax. The challengers said that while the purpose sounded legitimate the law would reduce the participation in voting without a corresponding benefit to the state, citing a long line of decisions protecting voting rights from legislated obstructions.

This got a lot of attention because of the politicization of U.S. Attorneys’ offices and the scandal that followed. The U.S. Attorneys were getting a lot of pressure from the White House to prosecute claims against people involved in voting registration drives. The nationally Republican Party also favored the state identification requirement of the sort enacted in Indiana. This case, although argued after the controversy had ceased grabbing daily headlines, fed into that political tempest.

The Supreme Court’s decision was not easily arrived at. There were roughly 40 amicus briefs filed by non-parties with an interest in the outcome. The Court could not generate a single opinion but published an opinion, a concurring opinion (which agreed with the opinion but on differnt grounds) and two separate written dissents. But the Indiana law was upheld on a 6-3 vote.

It leaves me breathless to read that some people jump from this decision to condemnation of ACORN, an acronym for Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now. Campbell v. Marion County they call a voting fraud case when there was no evidence of voting fraud and then they identify ACORN as a leading voting fraud perpetrator, when it has never been associated with voting fraud. In Missouri and Washington this activist group was associated with false registration of voters and never with a fraudulent vote being made. It operates around the country registering poor people. It supplements its volunteer workers by paying people according to the number of voters they register.

It has registered roughly a million and a half people over the last few years. In Missouri it found that 4 people had falsely registered voters and notified the election board so that the fraud could be reversed before the election. In Washington it did not discover the fraud because the false registration sheets were produced by the workers just before the deadline for registration. The seven people who did this were prosecuted. In a press release the Sheriff’s Office said that this was a fraud committed on ACORN to get money for registering voters. ACORN was said to have been negligent in supervising these people and it paid a $25,000 fine. The faulty registrations did not result in a false vote as the fraud was done to get ACORN’s money, not to influence an election.

It is contemptible to try to impugn Obama by associating him with this perfectly legitimate organization and suggest that this association is somehow a criminal.

Geraldine to the Rescue

March 12, 2008

Thank goodness for Geraldine. Twice now during critical moments in the primaries when people have questioned things, Ms. Ferraro has been able to step forward and clarify matters. You remember Geraldine Ferraro don’t you? She’s the one who in 1984 and again in 1992 championed the rights of down-trodden Italian Americans, reminding us how very difficult it was to be of Italian ancestry in the United States and the unfair treatment she received when running for public office.

The first important pause in the Democratic primaries occurred before Super Tuesday when people looked up at the scoreboard and saw that Hillary Clinton had a small herd of committed super delegates in her corral, making the nomination process much closer than it would otherwise be. People began questioning a nominating process which fell so far short of being democratic.

It was at this moment — when the “people’s party” was discerned as being less democratic than its rival and being controlled by party insiders — that Geraldine stepped forward to resolve our doubts. She wrote an op ed piece for the New York Times explaining that everything was fine with the process. (In the piece she did not mention that she was working for the Clinton campaign but that surely would not affect matters of such high principle.)

Geraldine wrote that everyone in the Democratic Party was concerned after the disastrous primaries that preceded the 1980 election. It was a mess and resulted in the Democratic Party garnering only 49 electoral votes in the presidential election. Well, Geraldine explained, the party went to work and created a highly efficient and stable machine. A critical part of this assembly was the creation of a mass of super-delegates that represented almost half of the number of delegates necessary for nomination. Geraldine did not go into to detail about precisely how this improved things. Instead she held up the non-contentious primaries preceding the 1984 election as an example of the glittering success of the new machine. You probably don’t remember those primaries; they were certainly non-contentious.

The flower of Geraldine’s new party machine was the election o0f 1984. The machine of which she is so proud offered up as the vice presidential candidate none other than Geraldine herself. With Geraldine on the ticket and the newly minted machine at work, the Democratic Party was able to alter the outcome of the national election, winning 9 electoral votes. Since this new party machine was fashioned the Democratic Party has won 2 presidential elections and lost 4, significantly below its historical winning percentage.

Our next pause in the primary process came recently. Having been persuaded by Geraldine that a super-delegate controlled nomination process was a good thing, people began to wonder why we should even go through with the primaries. Everyone acknowledges that neither Clinton nor Obama will have enough delegates from the primaries and caucuses to win the nomination and that — barring a face plant by Obama — it is impossible for Clinton to catch Obama in the number democratically chosen delegates. Obama will be the popular choice and the selection will be made by the super delegates.

Again, Geraldine to the rescue. Obama is not really the popular choice. His position is the result of privilege, not policy. Bringing to mind the historic “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door,” Geraldine spoke up for displaced white people everywhere. If Obama were white he wouldn’t have a chance. Nobody would listen to some white guy talking about hope, reconciliation and ending the war. It’s just not fair. (Hillary of course stoically and heroically distanced herself from the statements of her inner circle of advisers.) How can we countenance a poor white waitress like Hillary having to overcome the obvious advantages of a black male in this society? They call this selection process a “race” after all don’t they?

What happened with the NAFTA business.

March 10, 2008
My mention of Clinton’s remarks about Obama and NAFTA has drawn some disdain.  The criticism of me for mentioning it made me think that it might be a good idea for me to state the facts as I know them and invite corrections.

On March 3, the day before the critical primaries, Clinton accused Obama of hypocracy, criticizing NAFTA in speeches while having no intention of following through with his comments. This made headlines the day of the primaries and was carried the evening before. The remark by Clinton was made to Ohio voters who are highly concerned about NAFTA. She worked it into several of her themes. “I don’t just criticize [NAFTA]. I don’t have my campaign go tell a foreign government behind closed doors: ‘That’s just politics. Don’t pay attention to it'” Her campaign even ran radio ads in Ohio on the subject the evening before the vote.

Clinton won in Ohio by a more convincing margin than say Texas, effectively curbing the movement toward Obama over the last two months in that state. This is also an old “dirty trick,” to say something questionable on the eve of a primary before the target can respond meaningfully and before research can be done.

The Globe and Mail investigated this report and reported after the primaries on March 5 that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s most senior political staffer had told reporters that Clinton’s staff had been in touch and advised that the campaign rhetoric about NAFTA meant nothing. It also reported that when this was reported in Canada Clinton was mentioned as a source and attention was drawn to a memo about an Obama advisor who had had a conversation with the a diplomat in Chicago.

Thus, Clinton was not only first mentioned in this respect, but the Canadian report included her as well. Nonetheless she timed her disclosure for election eve and accused Obama of hypocracy while acting rather sanctimonious about never ever doing any such thing herself.

In my mind when a newspaper, such as The Globe and Mail, disputes something a candidate says, particularly an accusation made on election eve without meaningful opportunity to investigate or rebut, people should talk about it. This sort of thing should be discouraged; it’s a cheap trick, whether its done by Clinton, Obama or anyone else.

Subsequently of course the Prime Minister has denied whispered reassurances from the Clinton camp and the Canadian diplomat has withdrawn the remark in his memo saying it was not accurate. I could have waited a week to see what the status was going to be. The Globe and Mail article was accurate. The only thing that happened after the article was that the Canadian government withdrew all comments about the assurances it was getting from both candidates, or their advisers.

As an aside, I think there are only two worthy topics out of this: Clinton’s campaign strategy; and Obama’s ineffectual handling of it.

Clinton Endorses McCain’s Experience over Obama’s

March 7, 2008

I would like someone to explain the the limits in campaigning for candidacy for the Democratic nomination. Surely the selection process is not intended to be the aggressive affair that national elections have become. Theoretically I suppose the limit is the point at which the campaigning starts to hurt the party, the point at which the party’s prospects for success in the election are diminished. I suppose that point is reached when the campaign either starts alienating voters from the eventual nominee or when or when the campaign takes on a tenor that pushes independents toward the other party.

The Washington Post and several other services have determined that Hillary Clinton is too far behind to win a majority of delegates from the primaries and caucuses. With her “big win” on Tuesday she gained no ground and because there are fewer delegates to win now, she actually lost ground. Conventional wisdom is that she will inevitably end up with fewer delegates than Obama, with a lower approval level than Obama. Her hopes for nomination rest with her ability to convince the super delegates to confer the nomination on her, rather than on Obama, the more popular choice.

This has prompted a very aggressive campaign by her, one fueled by false statements (it turns out that it was Clinton, not Obama who told the Canadian government that the campaign rhetoric about NAFTA meant nothing), innuendo (Clinton hedged when asked if Obama was Christian), fear mongering (the infamous telephone call at 3 a.m.). This is certainly divisive stuff but — at least in my mind — it is not clearly fraying the fabric of the party, although it’s moving in that direction.

It also creates a legitimate test for Obama. Will he wilt under unfair treatment? Will he stick his head in the sand like Kerry with swift boating? Or will he step forward like a leader and advocate for the truth?

Clinton has though adopted a tactic that at least on its face appears to unequivocally advance her personal interests over those of her party. Clinton claims that Obama is not in the same league as she and McCain! She says that she and McCain are qualified to serve as commander-in-chief and Obama is not. When she talked about the candidates getting together on the same ticket she apparently was referring to McCain and herself, not she and Obama.

Part of her campaign is that she is the more electable candidate, when the polls show that Obama compares better with McCain than she does. Is she trying to render him unelectable so that she will be the default candidate. To the degree that this approach has credence with people, it certainly promotes McCain’s candidacy. McCain apparently need not campaign at all while Clinton is contending with Obama for the Democratic nomination. This is surely beyond the line of legitimacy in campaigning for a party’s nomination.

This situation is reminiscent of the 1972 primary groundswell for McGovern. The party establishment fought him every step of the way. They tried to change the delegate rules, that time for California, not Florida and Michigan. He was so much castigated by the party elite that a Democrats for Nixon branch evolved. With a tattered party behind him McGovern, a truly great man, lost in a landslide to Nixon whose dirty tricks were exposed after his election (most notably the Watergate breakin), leading to Nixon’s resignation.

It was ten years after this that the Democratic primary system was revamped to include the huge number of super-delegates we now talk about. The main reason for this, as I understand it, was to avoid destructive primaries, such as the party experienced in 1972 and 1980. Ironically, it seems to be Clinton’s hope of winning the super-delegates that has inspired the mudslinging that the appointment of super-delegates was supposed to avoid.

Beyond Spin

March 6, 2008

Hillary Clinton’s “expose”  of Obama’s team assuring Canada that he did not mean what he said about NAFTA  looks now like old-fashioned dishonesty.   One of Canada’s leading newspapers, the Globe and Mail, investigated Clinton’s claim and determined that it was Hillary Clinton’s camp that had initiated this, not Obama’s.  After news of her assurances came out in Canada, a conservative government official made the apparently unsubstantiated claim that Obama’s team had said that he did not mean what he said about NAFTA.  On this point in the best light Hillary is a hypocrite and in the worst a liar.