Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Showing Up

Eighty percent of success is just showing up. – Woody Allen

In the short time he’s had a central role on the national stage, it certainly seems like John McCain has developed a habit of not showing up—or trying not to.

First, he tried to cancel the first presidential debate with Barack Obama, citing the urgency of the national economic crisis. Then he cancelled on David Letterman at the last minute (much to his subsequent regret), only to be busted a few minutes later getting his makeup done in Katie Couric’s studio. Just yesterday, he cancelled two appearances in Pennsylvania due to weather (although Obama kept his promise to the 9,000 supporters who were willing to wait in the icy rain to hear him speak).

As polls indicated that his popularity was dropping last week, McCain announced that he doesn’t plan to show up at his own election watch party. What kind of a message does that send to the hundreds of people who (for reasons that are beyond me) have faithfully followed him, believed in him, and held out every hope for his success? Doesn’t he at least owe them the courtesy of being there?

Clearly, courtesy is not an attribute of John McCain, as evidenced by his habitual rudeness to his opponent during this campaign. One can only imagine what effect it could have on American diplomatic relations if, as president, he failed to show at a summit of world leaders (or referred to one of them, dismissively, as “that one!”).

America needs a president who behaves like an adult—who thinks with his mind, not his emotions. In the unrelenting spotlight of a national campaign, the “Maverick of the Senate” has shown himself to be impulsive, erratic, and ultimately untrustworthy.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Negative Ads

This morning, General Colin Powell spoke eloquently for those of us who have had it with John McCain’s shameful, dishonest, and desperate attempts to discredit Barack Obama as a person.

To criticism about his blatant smear campaign, McCain has complained that he, too, has been the object of negative ads. But let’s face it: the term “negative” covers a lot of territory.

To suggest that Obama is un-American, unpatriotic, un-Christian, or untrustworthy is to appeal to the basest elements in American society. Deliberately using emotionally loaded terms like “terrorists,” “dangerous,” and “socialist” to evoke fear, hatred, and distrust—and to tolerate expressions of disdain and violence at Republican rallies—is dishonest and irresponsible.

By contrast, most of the Democrats’ “negative” ads have focused more on the issues than the opposing candidate. McCain has, in fact, voted with George Bush 90% of the time. McCain has never disputed that statement. He did, in fact, say (on “Black Monday,” no less) that the “fundamentals of the economy are strong.” And by pretty much any standard, his behavior in recent weeks can be described as “erratic”; he’s changed course many times on issues from how to address the economic meltdown to whether or not to attend a scheduled debate with Barack Obama—or, more famously, David Letterman.

The Democratic campaign is notable for the issues that haven’t been raised and the ads that haven’t been produced. Nothing’s been said, for example, about how the pregnancy of Sarah Palin’s daughter might reflect on the governor’s attitudes about sex education. Relatively little has been made of John McCain’s association with Charles Keating or G. Gordon Liddy. For the most part, the Democratic campaign has allowed unclear or contradictory arguments by McCain and Palin to be evaluated on their own merits (or lack thereof) by the public, while Obama focuses on finding real solutions to critical problems.

I’d like to think it won’t matter after the votes are counted—but it will. The world is watching. Clips are being broadcast in China and Saudi Arabia and Great Britain just as they are in California and New Jersey. The reputation of America—already so tarnished and so negative—is forming for the next phase of our international relations—which will require cooperation on issues from the world economy to containment of nuclear weapons. The next president will need support at home to bring about the cultural shifts necessary to salvage the economy, slow global climate change, improve education, and make health care available to everyone.

Given the negative impact his tactics have had on his campaign, there seems to be some hope that McCain will learn from his mistakes and stick to the issues from now on. Clearly, it’s time for him to start doing what he’s claimed to be doing all along—putting America first.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The New Tickets

Based on the commentaries now circulating after last night's presidential debate, it seems that we have four Joe's running for office: Joe Cool, Joe Biden, Joe "Six-Pack" Palin, and Joe the Plummer.

From where I'm sitting, it looks like any one of them stands a better chance of being elected than John McCain.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Change We Need

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. - Barack Obama

As John McCain’s so-called “campaign” continues to degenerate to a series of unfounded, vitriolic, and inflammatory accusations against Barack Obama as a person, perhaps it’s a good time to reflect on the one thing both sides seem to agree on: change is needed. That, at least, is an idea that seems to resonate.

So what kind of change do we need?

Let's begin by reminding ourselves that when a complex problem needs to be solved, there are virtually always more than two ways to go about it. Unfortunately, here in America, our democracy is firmly locked into a two-party system. Anyone outside the two mainstream organizations who makes a serious run for public office is viewed in one of two ways: a hopelessly unrealistic idealist (at best) or a crackpot who can’t fit into any of the established niches (at worst).

There have been times when this either-or system seemed to work well—usually when the country has been threatened by outside forces and, like a fractious family, came together in a spirit of “one-for-all-and-all-for-one.” That happened during World War II and, perhaps most recently, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

During times of relative peace and prosperity, however, we Americans tend to be led around by the nose by people—be they Presidents or pastors—who are passionate, or even fanatical, about one idea. Everyone is labeled either “pro” or “con,” “right” or “wrong,” “with us” or “agin us.” When things go wrong—as they most certainly have, in every aspect of public life, in recent years—we waste precious time and resources laying blame and trying to defend the old, tired ideas espoused by our own party.

So here’s the change we need: a president who’s not a traditional Democrat or Republican. Who brainstorms with anyone who has the brains, background, and creativity to offer viable solutions. Who can build consensus. Who can inspire ordinary people to participate in whatever way they can, large or small. Who is skilled at listening to all sides of an argument and forging a compromise that’s better than the status quo and that everyone can live with.

Focusing on one idea is a convenient substitute for thinking, and stirring up hate and contempt for people with different points of view is much easier than doing the intellectual work necessary to solve problems. Any lack of progress can be blamed on those idiots on other side of the equation who persist in not seeing things our way.

So as a nation, we need to stop being defensive, blaming others for our mistakes, and avoiding responsibility. We need to grow up. And we need a leader who inspires us to do that.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Palling Around"

Boy, it’s a good thing I’m not running for public office. I’ve worked in the same building since 1991, with roughly the same 140 or so adults—give or take a few who’ve come and gone over the years. I know of some who’ve got skeletons in the closet, and I have my suspicions about some of the others.

I work with approximately 400 high school students every year—and an American high school is the world’s biggest melting pot. I know kids who’ve gone on to be doctors, lawyers, clerks, teachers, welders, business owners, and crooks. I’ve visited a few of them in jail. And that’s not to mention the clients I’ve met in private practice who, let’s face it, seldom seek me out because things are going well.

The likes of John McCain and his cronies (I’ll use that word because he seems to like it) could have a field day.

Barack Obama has been a volunteer social worker, student, lawyer, law professor, author, legislator, and Senator. I’m sure he’s met, talked with, and worked next to some real shady characters.

And all they come up with is William Ayers—a man who, regardless of what he may have done in his youth, has been a law-abiding citizen for decades now?

What about the economy? What about the war? What about the environment? What about energy independence? What about America’s reputation and standing in the world?

While his opponent is addressing these issues through reason, persuasion, and consultation with experts, John McCain is deliberately stirring up anger, suspicion and hatred. His whole campaign strategy has become trying, by any means whatever, to tear down the reputation of a reputable man—and it’s obvious he doesn’t care who he hurts in the process.

Yes, sadly it’s true. Barack Obama has collaborated with a dishonest, deluded, and destructive man. He met him at work in the United States Senate. That man is John McCain.