Posts Tagged ‘candidates’

I don’t know who won the debate last night. I’m not certain at this point who’s going to win the general election. To be honest, I don’t know what I know anymore. Is it supposed to rain tonight ? How long will I have this headache? Are my health insurance premiums going up? Exactly what percentage of my savings have I lost and if it’s all on paper, does it really matter? Damned if I know.

Uncertainty is a state of mind I’ve been examining as part of the research for my book. Humans, particularly Americans, don’t like to be uncertain. We want to know who won, who’s winning, how much we’ve lost, how fast we can make it up and, occasionally what it all means. To not know is to be in a position of weakness.

Or not. Accepting uncertainty as a more or less permanent condition can be liberating. It allows you to consider possibilities. Whatever it is you don’t know for certain you’re free to imagine. Why not imagine the best of all possible worlds? Doesn’t mean it will happen, just that it might. It’s that glass-half-empty, glass-half-full point of view.

It’s one thing to not know something absolutely and another to not make up your mind with the information you have at hand. Most people I know (myself included) have pretty much settled on a candidate whose vision we feel is most in line with ours, which is why I was so fascinated to listen to the comments of the undecided voters being grilled by various commentators last night. As Gail Collins pointed out in today’s New York Times, these undecided swingers in unpredictable states are the voters on whom the candidates are now focused like laser beams. They claim to be examining the positions of the candidates, which have remained largely unchanged for some time. Clearly, if they admit to making a decision before November 4th, they won’t be as interesting to either the press or the politicians. Which begs the question: are those oh-so-unsure but ever-so-popular independents really still undecided? I don’t know for sure – but I tend to doubt it.

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The storm in New Orleans that wasn’t (well, it was but it wasn’t so awful as to wreak utter havoc. However, it was just strong enough to show that the levees still aren’t adequately reinforced) also served to delay the GOP convention, which allowed George Bush to not show up, citing “pressing business” in DC. Now the GOPs just have to deal with Palin.

Honest to God, I don’t know what to make of this imbroglio. Yes, children of the candidates should be off-limits and so should questions about family dynamics and so should the religious beliefs and practices of the candidate unless they involve ritual sacrifice or devil worship, I suppose.  The truth is, however, they haven’t been for some time. I am kind of surprised about charges of sexism flying around, not because I don’t think it exists but because those tossing out the accusations are being hypocritical. Aren’t we allowed to ask questions? Good lord, after the long and drawn-out brouhaha over whether Obama spent twenty years in a church with an angry inflammatory pastor, aren’t we allowed to ask about Palin’s involvement in the firing of a state employee who had supposedly refused to fire the trooper who just happened to be her soon-to-be-ex brother-in-law? Aren’t we (at least if we have a certain take on where the Almighty fits into politics) allowed to look at her public statements about the Alaska pipeline and the Iraq war being “God’s will?” Why is it okay to question one candidate’s “otherness” and not another’s judgment?

Both parties are guilty of what my dad used to call “the pot calling the kettle black” but I find it exceptionally ironic that the party that has no problem questioning the patriotism and family values of members of the other party is crying foul over the raised eyebrows. Still, I want it done. War, foreign policy, the economy, universal healthcare, the environment and the type of Supreme Court Justices we might expect to be nominated: there are, underneath all the rhetoric, two distinct positions on these and other issues. Let the positions come through so that we can all make our decisions in (relative) peace.

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I’ve been so engrossed in what you might call “man-activities”(watching superhero flicks, worrying over the Mets and the Yankees, reading international thrillers, working out sporadically with weights) that I’ve been missing the cat fights taking place in the news and around the Internet. This is what I get for missing the “Sex and the City” bandwagon. Anyway, I’ve noticed that “cougars” are lately on the prowl; not the real cats, except possibly out West, but rather the slang version, the sexy older woman interested in younger guys (aren’t we all?). Madonna, a major-league cougar (her body alone qualifies her but she also has a husband ten years younger), fought rumors that she was canoodling with even an younger major-league sex symbol Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod). This week’s news has also featured the nasty public divorce trial of lovely (and angry, the reason for going public) Christie Brinkley and her less than lovely and only somewhat younger ex Peter Cook, which has now apparently been resolved. We might have been spared the details about his $3,000/month Internet porn habit and an eighteen-year-old mistress but then we’d have to go back to superhero movies and working out.


Cougars, not to be mistaken for cuddly kittens, are predators and are also known as pumas, not to be mistaken for the athletic apparel company. PUMA is also the name of a new political action group I encountered online recently via multiple sites and citations. The name is an acronym meaning (depending on what you’re reading) either “People United Means Action” or “Party Unity My Ass.” Get it? PUMA members are made up of incensed Hillary Clinton supporters, mostly women as far as I can tell, who believe their candidate was forced out of the race prematurely in the name of (Democratic) party unity. Their initial goal appears to have been to help Hillary claw her way back into contention after the last of the primaries. I’m not convinced Hillary necessarily wants that but I’m basing that on a recent speech she gave that involved, yes, party unity (more on that later). At any rate, her public declarations on the matter aren’t stopping PUMA plans which include creating some sort of a commotion at the convention in Denver – but then what is a Democratic Party convention without some sort of commotion? Many PUMA members claim to be ready to vote for or raise money for McCain, never mind that his views on many issues appear diametrically opposed to Hillary’s. Some even call themselves Democrats for McCain, which makes as much sense to me as Jews for Jesus. One enraged blogger repeatedly referred to herself as a “Woman-American” which I guess is how she signals her feelings that her “group” has been disenfranchised.


I am woman; hear me roar.


Listen, there are plenty of topics about which women and right-minded people can get angry, among them healthcare, childcare, environmental disintegration, energy dependency, the safety of our food and our medicine and our schools, reproductive choice and pay equity. Hillary has consistently offered proposals to deal with these issues which are virtually identical with Obama’s. Can her supporters seriously believe she secretly hopes they’ll vote for John McCain, whose views are so different? Or don’t they really care anymore? F-ck our shared beliefs and full steam ahead?


Call me naive but when I heard Hillary Clinton speak at a breakfast yesterday, she seemed to have turned the proverbial corner. Yes, she addressed the disappointment and the adjustment she and her supporters had to make. She also insisted that the greater good trumped all; she indicated that, in her view, Obama represented just that. Maybe her remarks were calculated; her campaign’s in debt and her political future necessitates her playing nice – but isn’t that how politics in general are played? What struck me is that Hillary always manages to rise above repeated attempts to attach stereotypes to her. Succumbing to the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” cliché is not her style; how strange that some of her supporters find it such a comfortable fit.

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When it appeared that there were now two presumptive nominees for President, I went trolling the Internet for reaction. I sought not the reputable sites or or quasi-reputable bloggers, but instead the chat rooms on places like MSN, Yahoo and AOL. I wanted to read what “regular” people were thinking. I mean, these are voters, right, so how are they engaging their thought processes?

Disappointing news from that front, I’d have to report. There do seem to be an awful lot of people with axes to grind and time on their hands. I guess the crap that passes for dialogue in some of these so-called political forums represents democracy’s ugly underbelly. I tripped upon lots of stale theories about Obama’s “Muslim” agenda, naturally. There are some wacko things being written about McCain as well, by the way; the paranoia that drives these respondents isn’t left or right, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican.

It would be laughable if it weren’t so disturbing to imagine that many people may place value on this kind of “information” or that they might use it as a basis for making decisions. The beauty of Internet news and Internet reporting and Internet information is supposed to be that it uncovers anything and everything. There has been no whispered aside, no private conversation, no intemperate moment possible in the Presidential race thus far, nor will there be. It’s all up for discussion, dissection and subsequent distribution. Great, no more secrets. But no filter either. It’s all so IMPORTANT (caps deliberate).

The filter is supposed to be ours. It’s our job to sort through what’s important and what’s not, where we have to focus and what we have to dismiss when evaluating the candidates. We’re supposed to know that what the candidates think about or plan to do about issues such as health care, the economy or our country’s foreign policy conduct is more pressing than what their spouses might have said privately. Maybe it’s fun to catch people in unguarded moments or to read personal letters they wrote twenty years ago and then obsess endlessly about them. It’s the ultimate Facebook-type gossip session, at least until the obsession or the rumor or the half-truth becomes cruel or dangerous or much more relevant than it deserves to be.

More of us than ever seem to know that this upcoming election is an important one, which means that perhaps more of us than ever will vote. That’s a big plus. We have more access to information on which to base our decision than ever before and that’s an even bigger plus. But not all information is equal, not to mention true.

Okay, so here’s your assignment in terms of preparing yourself to vote. There are no excuses (“They’re all the same”) and no passes (“I’ve already chosen a candidate”). This is what you do: Listen, read, think, ask, listen, read and do some more thinking. Access your own experience, your own common sense, your own conscience and your own moral compass. Weed out the excess, focus on the big picture, keep yourself informed, keep the gossip to a minimum and keep the rumors off the table. Feel free to yell, scream or flood your local stations with e-mails if you see any nasty, negative, fear-based or generally bottom-feeding commericals directed against any candidate, including local or Congressional representatives we’ll also be voting for. Be prepared, if you so choose, to discuss your choice with others. You don’t have to, of course; I just happen to be a big fan of dialogue, as long as it’s reasoned and reasonable and we need more of it to counteract the nastiness around us.

No slacking off now. The information (and misinfomration and disinformation) is coming at you fast and furious Get ready, get set and…FILTER!


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I suppose primaries have always been about interpreting numbers, at least as long as polling has taken place and pollsters and pundits have made predictions. But whereas the candidates usually confined themselves to making large, generalized predictions (“I will be your nominee”), those on the Democratic side seem to have let themselves be swayed by a sort of numbers shell game.

According to this new math, you measure something called “the popular vote” even though that’s not the way the primary process (especially the Democratic Party’s version of it) works. Don’t misunderstand me; the primary process is a confusing mess but it works the way it works. The one with the necessary number of delegates wins, whether these delegates are chosen by “the people” or by their representatives in caucuses or they are free-floating super-delegates who make up their minds along the way. Further, if you’re trying to make this “fair” (insofar as possible), you don’t count the votes in states where your opponent stayed off the ballot per instructions from the party leaders. Nor do you insinuate the race is over because you have a majority of delegates.

Anyway, the primary season isn’t necessarily a reflection of the way people will vote in a general election. For one thing, at the beginning of the season, the voters are split among a larger numbers of candidates. They aren’t usually asked who their second choice would be or where those votes might go after their favorite quits the race. They don’t get a do-over because the crowd has shrunk. Further, some voters may cross party lines in states where it’s permitted, to try and shake things up.

I say, if you want to make a case for counting the popular vote, change the process. Same with the general election. Meanwhile, let the games continue. More people are watching – and voting – than ever before. I may be a cockeyed optimist but I’m hoping that, even if the primaries leave some of them feeling bruised and battered, they’ll come around in the fall.

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The primaries are over and we have a semi-clear front-runner on the Republican side, albeit one despised by a wing of his own party and no clear front-runner on the Democratic side. Voters and would-be voters, who seemed to be impassioned now seem to be getting worked up into hysteria. The media has a lot to do with whipping people into a frenzy which frankly whips me into a frenzy; the writing and reporting these days is often as ugly as the candidates’ assaults on each other. But no one is blameless, including voters and would-be voters. So herewith, a list of behaviors and actions which are FORBIDDEN – or would be if I had any enforcement power:

  • To the candidates: You are welcome, even urged to keep working towards the nomination of your party. We know you believe yourself to be uniquely qualified to be the next President of the United States. That doesn’t mean you’re entitled. So don’t you dare get personal or allow your surrogates to do it for you. Don’t incite your supporters to anger; you’ll just jeopardize the enthusiasm this primary season has generated against all odds. Think about what’s best for your party and your country. Know when to say no. If you need a lesson in graciousness, call Al Gore.
  • To the surrogates: Watch your mouths.
  • To the Democrat and Republican National Committees: Okay, it’s still going to be a two-party election. It’s your duty to highlight the policy differences between the candidates and make the case for your person’s stand on issues of concern. However, I don’t want to hear one word about “attack machines” or see them in evidence. I don’t want to see fingers pointing or party officials claiming “they started it!” And don’t let me catch you underhandedly funding outside private groups to run nasty Swiftboat-type campaigns and then claim you didn’t know.
  • To the media: Focus more on what is important, not which candidate cried, which one coughed, who snubbed who and who wore what. Since when is that political reporting? Special note to the editorial folks: stop trying to imitate the tone of the nastiest blogger or most venal radio talk host. A dwindling handful of us still depend on you to observe, analyze and share your insights but we’re not looking for you to gleefully wallow in your skills at being snide.  If I want shrill and nasty, I can hit any number of so-called political blogs or visit a chat room, where you can be exposed to some of the most paranoid, hateful and generally uninformed opinions to be found anywhere. But that’s democracy.
  • To the voters:  I’m not going to argue whether voting is a right or a privilege because what it is, first and formost, is a responsibility. Every citizen of this country over eighteen who has not been convicted of a Federal crime is eligible to vote. I’m already hearing supporters of one or the other Democratic candidates threatening not to support the eventual party nominee and several wing-nuts on the other side are urging their listeners to “stay home” on Election Day if a certain war hero is the standard-bearer. Are you people crazy? We’re halfway around the globe trying to stick democracy into countries where it might not take and you want to sit out an election in a country where it works? Don’t even THINK about it.

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“Who are you going to support?” I asked a prominent Democratic friend who had been backing the recently departed John Edwards. “God only knows,” he replied. “I’ve got a week until the primaries to think about it.”

“Who are you going to support?” I asked a prominent Republican friend of mine who had been backing the soon-to-be departed Rudy Giuliani. “I’m really undecided,” she responded. “I’ll spend this week trying to decide.”

Now it gets interesting. Watch the polls and the pols but whatever you do, VOTE!

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So many things seem to be in the toilet I don’t know where to begin.  Take the economy – please, take it and fix it, something neither the President or his Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke seem to be able to do. Bush’s recently announced $145 billion tax relief package only seemed to grease the Dow’s slide. Talk about instilling confidence. The world continues to offer its share of troubled spots: Kenya and Gaza are the current headliners along with Pakistan, of course.

For rock bottom, you can’t beat the innuendos, rumors and just plain ugly comments the candidates and especially their surrogates seem unable to resist. Barak Obama and his surrogates absolutely elevated Hillary’s comments about LBJ’s putting King’s dreams into actions (ungainly but understandable on some level) practically into a race war of words. Bill Clinton’s temper is showing with his attacks on Obama, who has enough problems with  the e-mail chain letter insisting the Senator is a Muslim. He isn’t, but why he has to waste energy refuting that claim goes to a different discussion about the role religion is playing in this Presidential contest – and trust me, I have lots to say on the subject. On the Republican side, the ghost of Lee Atwater seemed to chase McCain all over South Carolina but he persevered, thanks to his Truth Squad; now he just has to deal with Huckabee celebrity supporter Chuck Norris claiming that McCain is too old.

I know conventional wisdom suggests that rumor-monging can be effective if it plants the seeds of doubt in some voters but I think it’s more likely such tactics would keep many away from the polls altogether. I sometimes wonder if those who are invested in spreading personal and political falsehoods about the candidates they are so desperate to see defeated think about such things. The cost of this race is already embarrssingly high – the GNP of many countries, no doubt. But cost also refers to other less tangible things like prestige. The whole world really is watching. True, we aren’t likely to experience riots following our elections as in Kenya or other parts of the world. On the other hand, we might want to put the bar a great deal higher than that, at least if we’re going to promote ourselves as the best entity to promote democracy.

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Change Is Loose

Change is good, especially if you get it back after laying out for gas or groceries, an increasingly unlikely proposition these days. It’s also good if it means you’ll get up off your couch and engage in some positive activity to improve your life or the lives of your loved ones or even complete strangers. True, the prospect of change can weigh you down, both literally and figuratively. So what does change mean in this volatile election season, what with the politicians presenting themselves as change agents and pundits scrambling to decipher the effectiveness of the word on various voting segments?

My favorite commentary on the “change” issue so far comes from Michael Kinsley, formerly from “Crossfire” (in its earlier, more civilized incarnation) and founding editor of Slate Magazine and  now a columnist for Time Magazine. He questions, in a recent Op-ed piece, what the candidates are actually promising but also asks us to consider how much change we really want.  If it means we pay more, involve the government more, find ourselves more restricted in order to accomplish some big-picture goals, or if it turns out some of us make less, keep less or do with less, is change good?

Polls show a majority of the American public want at the very least an attitude change at the White House; that is an Administration that practices diplomacy, respects our civil liberties, protects our environment, does not serve special interests, gets its priorities straight when it comes the economy, education and yes, how best to make America secure, and one that operates with as much candor and openess as possible. With most of feeling as if anything will be an improvement, we have a number of candidates who ought to be able to create the feeling of a fresh start. How they’ll translate goodwill into policy decisions  will depend not only on the vagaries of Washington politics but also on how much change we really want.

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As I watch Obama glow and Clinton tear up, McCain expound and Romney stumble, Edwards lecture and Giuliani skulk and Huckabee appear momentarily irrelevant, I find myself squirming a little bit. I just can’t figure out whether I’m getting too much information or too little. I can certainly tell you who’s losing his or her voice but I still can’t comfortably parse the various front-runners’ decision-making processes and I don’t know if my fellow Americans can either. I could take a cue from the competitors’ ads – just assume the opposite of whatever the candidate is asserting about his rival, although  sometimes the ads at least alert us to discrepancies in statements made by the other candidates. I get that electing a President is about that elusive thing called popularity but I want to believe we’re going to make our choices based on more than reports about who’s laughing, who’s crying or who’s croaking, figuratively speaking. To do that, we could probably use a little less cuteness or cleverness from our friends in the media and a little more substance.

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