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Posts Tagged ‘candidates’

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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Iowa, as everyone not living under a rock knows, is just the beginning of the long primary season that now starts in the dead of winter. The results are in and Barak Obama and Mike Huckabee seem to have captured the imaginations of a handful of a handful of voters nationwide in what has got to be one of the more arcane voting systems in the country. CNN has a succinct explanation of the difference between primaries and caucuses, but essentially we’re talking not about voting booths but about meetings in which the party faithful show up to help select delegates favoring this or that candidate to show up at the convention.  Throw in the fact that, notwithstanding its leap to the head of the pack, the Iowa caucuses can’t be described as a surefire predictor of our next President and you could question the fuss.

Nevertheless, we live in a brave new world where well-paid political analysts on mainstream media and their underpaid (or unpaid) counterparts in the blogosphere have endless opportunities to analyse, editorialize and generally opine about what it means for a bunch of mostly white folks in a predominantly rural state to lean towards a folksy preacher from Arkansas or a bi-racial newcomer preaching change and hope.  It’s worth noting that the coveted demographic of traditionally disenfranchised voters under thirty appeared to turn out for Obama. At least Rudy was a no-show, which gave us a break from hearing 24/7 about 9/11. Anyway, Dodd and Biden are out and Richardson and Thompson are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. One can never underestimate the strength of the Clinton or Romney money machines, nor for that matter, Edwards’ or McCain’s determination. Besides, New Hampshire isn’t Iowa. Then there’s Ron Paul. Saddle up, y’all. It’s gonna be quite a ride.

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This is the time of year when retrospectives abound. I spent the weekend perusing the Internet, watching a little TV and reading this and that magazine. You pretty much know what everyone was focusing on, which is to say everything from the Presidential race and the deaths of various political and cultural icons over the past year to the overexposed shenanigans of our rehab/jailhouse-bound celebrities young and not so young. Being fond of taking the unique view, I’ve chosen to highlight those activities and events that seem to have largely slipped past the media searchlights to offer my own perspective on the year just about to expire. Herewith, my list:

Most Overlooked Event of 2007: The Virginia Tech Massacre has scarcely merited a mention, perhaps because of the dangerously intrusive way in which it was handled by the media.

Irony Award: The discovery that skin cells might be able to mimic and eliminate the need for embryonic stem cells, thus deflating what was a truly hot-button issue at the beginning of the year

Sports Upset: Not A-Rod or Torre or the Sox or the doping report but the Philadelphia Phillies, who after amassing the most losing record of any major sports franchise in history (10,000 losses) in July, went on in September to win the National League East Division

Where Was That Uprising: Burma, AKA Myanmar, only one of several hot spots this year experiencing uprisings but hard to track because of we didn’t know which name the media was using on any given day.

Reason for Despair Division: Crime rates in cities like Newark, Camden and Philadelphia; the upswing in diabetes and obesity; the failure of the U.S. policy of “democracy promotion” and the lack of a credible alternative plan (actually, that’s been in the news quite a bit but it bears repeating); the television writers’ strike; 2008 is an election year.

Reason for Hope Division: Skin cells and stem cells (see above); anything Mike Bloomberg does in New York; more celebrities coughing up more money than ever before (I don’t care why they’re doing it; they’re committing real time and real money and bringing real attention to real problems); 2008 is an election year.

Well, the calendar will change whether we want it to or not, so bring it on. At least we’ll get an extra day in 2008 to sort it all out.

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Benazir Bhutto‘s assassination is, as everyone has figured out, bad news. Bad for Pakistan. Bad for its enormously unpopular leader Pervez Musharaff. Bad for the population, which, having experienced everything from a devastating earthquake to a recent outbreak of bird flu, finds itself once again hopelessly trapped between a weakened dictator and the press of Al Qaeda extremists without a moderate in sight. Bad for the United States, which continues to funnel money to a shaky regime with nuclear capabilities as part of its “war on terror” strategy.

I’m watching CNN and the analysts are suggesting foreign policy will once again assert itself as a major issue in our Presidential race. Well and good. Unfortunately, this incident gives candidates an opportunity to bring up the war on terror in a way neither helpful nor substantive, only inflammatory. See Rudolph Giuliani’s statement on the Bhutto assassination, particularly his reference to the “terrorists’ war on us.” I suppose by “us” he means “democracy supporters everywhere” but I’m not sure I want to put Pakistan’s current President in that category.

Frankly, I’m sick of the concept of a “war on terror.” It’s become an easy slogan. It’s vague and meaningless. It reduces everything to “us” versus “them.” It precludes any nuanced discussion of cultural, political, economic realities. It shoves potential friends to the margins and into a vaguely defined “them” category and puts us in bed with military dictators and unpopular leaders. It conflates facts and ignores details. It’s a dangerously simplistic way of looking at the world. It can also be fatal.

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The primaries are upon us (on top of us really) and the pundits are getting whiplash trying to follow the bouncing polls. Maybe they deserve twenty lashes for bouncing the pols from frontrunner to has-been and back again. Somehow these early primaries and the hooplah that surrounds them seem as divorced from reality as possible. We have commentators asking candidates to raise their hands if they believe in evolution or agree that global warming is a threat. I mean, come on, is this a kindergarten class or a debate? The Democrats’ race is tight and bringing out the trump card gets more challenging. I figured being married to a former President beat all but now comes the power of O, which could really change the landscape. Who would have predicted Mike Huckabee as the front runner, that the sly, maybe-not-so-nice Southern preacher with the simple (some might say simplistic) world view. Actually, we don’t know much about his view of the world except that evolution has nothing to do with it. For simple visions, there’s Obama’s expectation that he can bring even greedy pharmaceutical executives and self-destructive dictators to the table and Rudy’s conviction that the world is divided into them and us and “them” probably deserves to be bombed into oblivion.

One event that struck me as strange and prompted this post was the endorsement of Republican John McCain by former Democrat and now Independent Joe Lieberman. Then again, maybe it’s not so strange. Ignoring a history of differences over a range of issues, they’ve bonded over their shared belief that we can and must stay the course in Iraq. Their conviction that the present policies work may well place them uniquely within their own alternate reality.  Still, I couldn’t help but shake my head in amazement. Lieberman Endorses McCain. Wow, you can’t make this stuff up.

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