Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Palin's Turkey Interview

I know that this has been posted all over the web, but for those who haven't seen it yet, I just couldn't resist. We've all seen our Presidents and Governors take time to "pardon" a lucky turkey each year before Thanksgiving (and what a great use of government time that is). It is one of those quaint little traditions that makes for a nice photo op. Well, last week, Gov. Palin pardoned a turkey in Alaska. Good for her. But it was what happened after she pardoned the turkey that is so ... I don't know ... it is hard to find the right word. Funny seems wrong but it was funny. Awkward? Disgusting? Well anyway, after pardoning the turkey, Gov. Palin went outside the turkey coop (is it a coop? house? hatchery?) to give an interview (and why has she been giving so many interviews now that the election is over?). The interviewer apparently asked her about the background (you'll see...) and Gov. Palin apparently responded "no worries" (that's Alaskan for hakuna matata) and the interview began.

So, without (much) further ado, here is Gov. Palin's interview. The video is from MSNBC. They have done us the favor of editing the video to make the images a bit more palatable (sorry for that pun). Below the first version of the video is the unedited version with bonus commentary from MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. If you can stand it, watch Keith's version; his narration is terrific.

Do you suppose, should Gov. Palin run for President in 2012, that this video might be shown again (and again and again and again)? Olbermann gets it just right in his summary of the video when, quoting someone else, says of Gov. Palin: "Not only is she the dumbest politician I've ever heard, but she doesn't even have a clue that she is the dumbest politician I've ever heard." You betcha!

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God on License Plates

Indiana, like many other states, has numerous "specialty plates". There is a environmental plate, a children's education plate, a disabled veteran plate, a breast cancer awareness plate, and a host of others. Several years ago, Indiana introduced a new plate with "In God We Trust" emblazoned upon a waving American flag.

Personally, I have trouble with this plate because, to me, it certainly seems like a governmental endorsement of religion or, if not religion per se, at least monotheistic belief. Whether this license plate is appropriate is (or was...) a discussion for another day and is not the purpose of this post.

Shortly after the plate was first unveiled, it was challenged in court. It is important to recognize that the court challenge was not about whether the plate violated the First Amendment (or Indiana's equivalent); instead, the challenge had to do with whether Indiana could offer this plate without requiring motorists to pay the $15 administrative fee that it required when people chose other speciality plates.

(Two quick asides: Last year, when I went to get a new plate, the BMV clerk asked me if I wanted a "regular plate or a special plate". I told her that I wanted a regular plate. She then asked me which regular plate I wanted: the plain one or the In God We Trust plate. Second, based on the driving skills that I've seen exhibited, it is clear that a number of people with the In God We Trust plate certainly must trust God to keep them from killing other motorists, because their own driving skills sure aren't doing the job.)

Just recently, an Indiana appellate court ruled that the BMV did not have to collect the administrative fee for the In God We Trust plate. It is not clear whether that ruling will be appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court.

However, days after that ruling was issued, the question of God on license plates was in the courts yet again. This time, the issue was a woman who wanted to renew her personalized license plate that said "BE GODS". Apparently, in 2007, the BMV adopted a new policy for personalized plates that allows the BMV to prohibit plates that refer to drugs, alcohol, bodily functions and parts, political parties, violence, race, gender, religion or a deity. On the basis of that policy, the woman was denied her "BE GODS" plate.

Of course, the obvious question is how the BMV can support a plate that specifically references a deity as a specialty or regular plate but prohibit a plate that references a deity as a personalized plate. If anything, it would seem that those policies are exactly backward. After all, with the personalized plate, it is not the state endorsing the particular religious viewpoint; rather, the state is essentially providing a platform from which individuals may make their religious preferences known. Contrast that to the In God We Trust plate which is issued by the State of Indiana.

Not surprisingly, the BMV was slammed in the press for its decision and shortly thereafter changed its position (essentially, the woman's plate was grandfathered in; she had been using that as her plate for years, but had mistakenly missed the deadline to renew). But that position, too, was criticized.

So now, the BMV has changed its policy again. According to a report in The Indianapolis Star, the BMV's policy is now for a committee of BMV employees to examine each request for a personalized plate and decide whether the plate "carries a connotation offensive to good taste and decency or would be misleading." I understand that policy to the extent that someone wants to use profanity or an obscenity on a plate (imagine a plate with "FUCK" or "EAT SHIT" or whatever else your dirty little mind can imagine). I can even understand the policy as it might related to veiled sexual references ("IMNXTC69" being the classic example) or suggestive of illegal behavior ("DO COKE"). But I'm troubled by the general standard of "offensive to good taste and decency". Whose taste and decency? Mine? Yours? Could a Hoosier choose a plate that was critical of the government or that indicated support for a controversial political position or minority viewpoint? And if the answer to that is no, then of course, one has to ask first, why, and then, who should be making that kind of determination? How have we gotten ourselves into a position where a group of state employees gets to determine whether a particular religious message "carries a connotation offensive to good taste and decency"? Are we comfortable with that?

And here are my final questions: What would the BMV do if a Hoosier motorist wanted a personalized license plate that said "ALLAH" or "BUDDHA" or "KRISHNA"? And what would happen if a Hoosier motorist wanted a personalized license plate that said "NO GOD"?

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Monday, November 24, 2008

LibraryThing: "Extreme Measures"

I've updated my LibraryThing catalog with a brief review of Extreme Measures [Mitch Rapp #9] by Vince Flynn. I'm currently reading Paul of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (hardback) and The Walk In by Gary Berntsen and Ralph Pezzullo (eBook).

For those interested, Paul of Dune takes place between Dune (my favorite book of all time) and its sequel Dune Messiah (which began 12 years after the events of Dune). Paul Atreides, the protagonist of Dune, is one of my all-time favorite heroic characters. However, by the beginning of Dune Messiah, he has changed. From the jacket notes that I've read, it sounds like Paul of Dune will describe the events of those intervening years and explain how those events began to change Paul.


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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bachmann Calls Her Own Comments an "Urban Myth"

During the election campaign, I wrote repeatedly about the demand by Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota) for an investigation to see which members of Congress have "anti-American" views (see Republican Congresswoman Follows Palin's Lead and Calls for Investigation Into Anti-Americans in Congress, Bachmann Misreads Herself! Huh?, and Another Republican Accuses Liberals of Being Unpatriotic). Following her initial comments on Hardball, Rep. Bachmann claimed that she had been "misread" and later suggested that she had been led into a trap. Somehow (and I have a hard time understanding how...), Rep. Bachmann won reelection. Shorty after the election, Rep. Bachmann seemed to include herself in the group of people who had elected President-elect Obama, calling his election "a tremendous signal we sent" (see Bachmann Now Supports Obama? Do These People Ever Listen to Themselves?).

So what does Rep. Bachmann have to say about her calls for an investigation into the "anti-American" views of members of Congress now that the election is over? She says she never said that and calls the allegation an "urban myth". Watch:

Now, go back and watch this highlight reel from her original appearance on Hardball:

It sounds to me like Alan Colmes (how can he stand to share a stage with Sean Hannity?) repeated Rep. Bachmann's comments verbatim, yet she has the nerve to claim that she never said those things. Has she never heard of YouTube? Has she never seen that interview replayed time and time again across the networks? The question to ask yourself is whether Rep. Bachmann: (a) is simply too stupid to understand what she said and how offensive it was, (b) is simply too stupid to recognize that most people today have the ability to go back and check to see what she really said, (c) really does believe the things she said but is looking for some kind of cover, or (d) doesn't really care what others think, so long as her base (remember, these new comments came on Fox News) continues to support her.

Perhaps someone needs to explain to Rep. Bachmann how YouTube works and that simply claiming that you didn't say something doesn't make those words disappear. Moreover, things that really happened are not urban myths. You see, to be an urban myth requires an absence of truth; hence the word "myth". When an event is demonstrably provable as true, it is, by definition, not a myth. And if she can't understand that, should she really be representing anyone in anything, let alone in Congress?

But then why should truth or semantics worry someone like Rep. Bachmann? After all:
  • She says she doesn't believe in global warming;
  • She says that women who get abortions have been "horrifically violated";
  • She claims that "hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel prizes" believe in Intelligent Design;
  • She has made statements that suggest that she knows precisely the "secret" plans that Iran has to divide up Iraq (including the name that Iran plans for part of Iraq after its secret plans come to fruition);
  • She blamed the mortgage crisis on "loans made on the basis of race and little else";
  • She says that if homosexuals are allowed to marry, "little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal, natural and perhaps they should try it";
  • She believes that a homosexual relationship is a form of bondage ("It is personal bondage, personal despair and personal enslavement");
  • She hides in the bushes to spy on gay rights rallies; and
  • She wrote that there is "almost no wildlife" in ANWR (on the basis of a single aerial flight over a tiny portion of the 19,049,236 acres; apparently she doesn't understand that the 2,000 acres where drilling would be conducted is non-contiguous and scattered throughout that enormous area).

Rep. Bachmann is far more articulate than Gov. Palin; you almost have to wonder whether Rep. Bachmann will become a standard-bearer for the right-wing of the Republican Party. In any event, I'd love to hear some of the conversations between her and her Democratic colleagues in the House: "Gee, Rep. Bachmann, how was your vacation, and do you still want an investigation to see if I'm anti-American?"

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Post-Election Blogger Blues

I'm still here. But now that the election is over and my perceived "need" for multiple daily posts has run its course, I find that I'm not particularly excited to write about much of anything at the moment. I started to write about Rep. Dan Burton's appearance on Hardball the other night when he refused to acknowledge that Sen. Clinton had nothing to do with the murder of Vince Foster back in 1993; I couldn't believe that he was still holding on to his wacky conspiracy theory 15 years later. But, by the time that I got around to writing about the issue? Ho hum. I suspect that this is simply a case of election cycle news withdrawal combined with a lack of appetite to write about economic woes. So, I haven't gone away; rather, I'm waiting for interesting things to write about and a little intellectual energy renewal of my own. After all, I did write a lot over the last few months; I'm entitled to take it easy for a bit. It is my blog!

Of course, with the next session of the Indiana General Assembly getting ready to start, I suspect that I'll have plenty to write about soon.

Plus, I really do plan to finish part two of that letter to Steve Berry that I posted about oh so long ago. Really.


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Friday, November 14, 2008

Bahrain's Overtures Toward Jewish Citizens

I just came across an interesting article on JTA:
The king of Bahrain said he would facilitate the return of Jewish expatriates through restored citizenship and land offers.

King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa met in New York Tuesday with about 50 Bahraini Jews who had immigrated to the United States, following a similar meeting in London this summer.

The king said that all expatriate Bahrainis, whatever their religion, were welcome to return.

"It's open, it's your country," he said in New York.

Hamad had reversed a law that banned dual citizenship and was ready to restore the citizenship of Bahrainis who had lost it in the interim, as well as offer it to their children.

"The younger ones can’t remember much, but we want them to know," he said of Bahraini heritage.

Returning Bahrainis would be eligible for land allocations, the king said.

Hamad is in New York to attend an interfaith conference co-sponsored by Saudi Arabia and the United Nations. He has instituted reforms in recent years, including extending the vote to women. He recently named a Jewish woman, Houda Nonoo, as his ambassador to Washington.

In an interview, Hamad told JTA that he did not expect his reforms to replicate throughout the region.

"What we do in Bahrain is for sure for Bahrain, it’s not to be exported," he said.

Bahrain has recorded a Jewish presence since the Talmudic era. Its current community of several dozen Jews is descended from Iraqi Jewish merchants who settled in the late ninth century.

Several things about this article struck a chord for me. First, given the open hostility to Jews throughout the Arab world (not just Israelis), the idea that an Arab country would take positive steps to improve relations with its own Jewish community is a terrific sign. Many people forget that a large segment of the Israeli population is comprised of Jews who fled or were expelled from Arab countries in the years following the formation of the State of Israel. And many people forget that the few remaining Jewish communities in Arab countries are often discriminated against or used as scapegoats for societal ills (or accused of being Israeli spies). So it is a welcome sign to see at least one Arab country actually recognizing that Jews play a role in their society and welcoming them as full partipants. Compare this to countries like Saudi Arabia where it is a crime not to be a Muslim.

But Bahrain has, apparently, gone further than just welcoming Jews. The Bahraini government has actually given a Jew (and a woman, at that) a position of power and influence within the government. That is a very positive step forward that could, given time, help form a base for some kind of construction dialogue between Bahrain and Israel. For the record, I wouldn't expect Ambasador Nonoo to be pro-Israeli; she should be pro-Bahraini and advocate for her nation. On the other hand, one would certainly hope that even if she opposes the government of Israel, she would also oppose anti-Semitism and could become a voice for tolerance in the Arab world.

Of course, the King's recognition that he did not expect the reforms to spread through the region is the "reality check" upon this small positive step forward.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I Blog, But I Don't Live in My Parents' Basement

In yesterday's interview with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News, Gov. Palin apparently discussed the media coverage of the campaign (I haven't seen the interview). As The New York Times' politics blog noted:

Ms. Palin directed most of her media criticism at liberal bloggers, whom she twice called, “those bloggers in their parents’ basement just talkin’ garbage.”

Just for the record, while I may be a liberal blogger, I don't live in my parents' basement. For that matter, I don't think that many liberal bloggers fall into that category either. For example, Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, has a BA/MA in economics from Cambridge. She was president of the Cambridge University debating society. The list of columnists for Huffington Post reads like a who's who of writers and thinkers. Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos, served in the U.S. Army before obtaining two undergraduate degrees from Northern Illinois University and a J.D. from Boston University School of Law. Daily Kos averaged about 2.5 million hits in the week leading up to the election and 5 million hits on election day. A review of the biographies of the other Daily Kos writers will reveal quite a few graduate degrees. Josh Marshall, editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo has an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a graduate degree from Brown. He lives with his wife and kids, not his parents.

Just this past weekend, I wrote about how I hoped that this election was a victory for thought and that intellectual prowess and educational achievement would be valued rather than remain an apparent source of derision. The fact that Gov. Palin continues to view those who expressed opposition to her and to the Republican platform as "talkin' garbage" from their "parents' basement" demonstrates that she (and, I suspect, many of her supporters) simply don't understand the nature of that opposition (either in terms of content or source). If she wants to be a viable candidate in the future (shudder at the thought), she might want to try thinking before talking and actually listening to and trying to comprehend some of the criticism that was leveled against her and Sen. McCain. Then again, understanding just what socialism really is or what it means to be told that you violated state ethics laws or grasping just why people were concerned with her lack of experience and education and views on social issues or recognizing the Constitutional role of the Vice President is all a bit more complicated than knowing which countries are in North America or knowing that South Africa is a country while Africa is a continent.

So, maybe it would be better for all of us if she just keeps huntin' moose and leaves the deep thinkin' to those of us on the left.

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Previewing Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories for the Obama Administration

President-elect Obama hasn't even taken the oath of office yet and already the right-wing whackos are starting to spread their conspiracy theories. Let's take just two quick examples. First, there is this ridiculous post from the Advance Indiana blog:

Take time out today to thank our veterans for their service to our country. Today is a national holiday in their honor. It may not be for long if supporters of Barack Obama have their way. They are already demanding a national holiday in his honor even before he serves a single day as president.

I want to dissect this short post for a moment. First, let's take the comment about a holiday in Obama's honor. Yes, an activist in Topeka made a suggestion that a holiday be adopted. But as the original article in The Topeka Capital-Journal notes, the activist making the suggestion "is known for his sometimes quixotic crusades against social injustice". In other words, the activist is a bit of a nut himself. Nevertheless, the suggestion was picked up and bandied about by right-leaning blogs and websites. So, while the bare nugget of a suggestion of a national holiday is true, it is a far stretch to suggest that "they" (meaning supporters of President-elect Obama) are "demanding" such a national holiday. Ah, but why let truth stand in the way. It is also worth noting that the link in the Advance America post is not to the original article in The Topeka Capital-Journal, but rather to an article on the ridiculously right-wing WorldNetDaily (I'm not going to even bother with a link to their website; it isn't worth your time to check it out and, if you do, you may feel the need to shower when you're done and, more importantly, you'll never be able to get back the time you wasted or the IQ points that you lost).

But, if the foregoing wasn't obnoxious enough, go back and read the first part of the Advance America blog post again:

Take time out today to thank our veterans for their service to our country. Today is a national holiday in their honor. It may not be for long if supporters of Barack Obama have their way.

(Emphasis added.) Tell me how, on the basis of a nutcase in Topeka who wants a national holiday to honor President-elect Obama, can a case be made the supporters of the President-elect want to eliminate Veterans' Day? Unfortunately, the right-wing has no problem with just making this crap up as they go, never mind the falsity of the claim or the harm that such a claim may have (especially as the claims are repeated from right-wing blogger to right-wing blogger, ad nauseam). And, as we saw during the recent campaign, some people do believe that if you tell a lie often enough, it becomes the truth; and to some people, that oft-repeated lie does, in fact, become the truth.

As another example, consider the following fear-mongering from Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia) (Broun is the author of the Marriage Protection Amendment that I mentioned back in June) according to an AP story:

A Republican congressman from Georgia said Monday he fears that President-elect Obama will establish a Gestapo-like security force to impose a Marxist dictatorship.

"It may sound a bit crazy and off base, but the thing is, he's the one who proposed this national security force," Rep. Paul Broun said of Obama in an interview Monday with The Associated Press. "I'm just trying to bring attention to the fact that we may — may not, I hope not — but we may have a problem with that type of philosophy of radical socialism or Marxism."

Broun cited a July speech by Obama that has circulated on the Internet in which the then-Democratic presidential candidate called for a civilian force to take some of the national security burden off the military.

"That's exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it's exactly what the Soviet Union did," Broun said. "When he's proposing to have a national security force that's answering to him, that is as strong as the U.S. military, he's showing me signs of being Marxist."

Obama's comments about a national security force came during a speech in Colorado in which he called for expanding the nation's foreign service.

"We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set," Obama said in July. "We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded."

The Obama transition team declined to comment on Broun's remarks. But spokesman Tommy Vietor said Obama was referring in the speech to a proposal for a civilian reserve corps that could handle postwar reconstruction efforts such as rebuilding infrastructure — an idea endorsed by the Bush administration.

Broun said he believes Obama would move to ban gun ownership if he does build a national security force.

Obama has said he respects the Second Amendment right to bear arms and favors "common sense" gun laws. Gun rights advocates interpret that as meaning he'll at least enact curbs on ownership of assault weapons and concealed weapons. As an Illinois state lawmaker, Obama supported a ban on semiautomatic weapons and tighter restrictions on firearms generally.

"We can't be lulled into complacency," Broun said. "You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany. I'm not comparing him to Adolf Hitler. What I'm saying is there is the potential of going down that road."

Following the twisted logic of Broun's fears is a migraine-inducing exercise, but I think that I've got it. According to Broun, because President-elect Obama suggested a civilian force to help with domestic security and infrastructure (anybody remember Hurricane Katrina?), we can assume that what Obama really wants to do is to create a force like the Gestapo (wait, they were fascists, not Marxists) to take away guns and people's rights and to create a Marxist (or is that fascist?) government. Do I have that right? And Broun isn't comparing Obama to Hitler; he's just repeatedly making reference to Hitler because Hitler was a Marxist ... oops, damn, I thought I had this all right.

It is worth reading what the actual policy plank on the issue of a civilian force really says:

Create a Civilian Assistance Corps (CAC): An Obama-Biden administration will set a goal of creating a national CAC of 25,000 personnel. This corps of civilian volunteers with special skill, sets (doctors, lawyers, engineers, city planners, agriculture specialists, police, etc.) would be organized to provide each federal agency with a pool of volunteer experts willing to deploy in times of need at home and abroad.

Anyway, I think that you can see the kind of idiocy that we're in for during the next four years. I'm surprised that we haven't heard the right-wing talk about President-elect Obama's truly ridiculous and controversial ideas like justice, respecting the rule or law, and upholding the Constitution. But that would be crazy talk; nobody would try to make changes like that!


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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bachmann Now Supports Obama? Do These People Ever Listen to Themselves?

During the final weeks of the election, I wrote several times about Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann and her vile suggestions that some Americans, some members of Congress, Barack Obama, and those with whom he associated, might be "anti-American". She even called for an investigation to determine which members of Congress were "anti-American". Following those statements, her race, which should have been an easy Republican win, became one of the closely watched and heavily funded races. In the end, Rep. Bachmann won reelection, but by a narrow margin.

So now that she will be calling Barack Obama "Mr. President" from her position in a smaller Republican caucus in the House of Representatives, what does Rep. Bachmann think about the election? According to The New York Times, Bachmann said that she was "extremely grateful that we have an African-American who has won this year". She also referred to Obama's victory as "a tremendous signal we sent" (emphasis added).

Now I've previously written favorably about President-elect Obama's desire to work with Republicans and to be the President of everyone, including those who opposed him. And I've written about how important I believe it is that we get beyond some of the vitriol and rhetoric -- such as that employed by Rep. Bachmann -- to move our country forward. And, I continue to believe in those ideals.

But why do I have such a hard time accepting Rep. Bachmann's claim to be part of the "we" that sent a tremendous signal in electing Barack Obama? I guess that means that she doesn't plan to ask for investigations into which members of Congress or the Obama administration are "anti-American". I'm glad that she's "seen the light" and views Obama's election as a "tremendous signal". But I'd still like to hear her (and others like her ... Gov. Palin, Sen. Dole, are you listening?) stop blaming others for trapping her or "misreading" her statements, and simply say, "I'm sorry" or "I was wrong" and recognize that the type of rhetoric that she used has no place in our democratic process. Feel free to challenge someone on the issues, but leave claims that the opponent is unpatriotic out of the discussion.

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A Victory for Thought?

As the Presidential election began to heat up in late-September, I wrote about "Elitism in Politics" and the seeming disinterest in the electorate in having elected officials who were, in fact, "elite" in terms of education and intellectual prowess. In that article, I noted:

For some reason that I don't understand, Americans seem to have a love-hate relationship with education and intellectualism. We want our kids to get the best education possible (except for home-schoolers who I just don't get...) and we admire the best institutions of higher education. Many of us dream that our children will be able to go to one of the top colleges and get a superior education. Yet too many Americans seem to hold academics and intellectuals in disdain. I'm sorry, but what is wrong with someone who thinks deeply about certain subjects?

And I concluded:

It is time to stop denigrating academic success; it is time to start applauding those who work hard, attend good schools, get good educations, and then put those educations to work. And, it is time that we recognized the value of someone who is capable of "deep thought" on complex issues and who exercises that capacity. Someone who revels in their own ignorance or who brags about the ability to make a decision without pondering all of the possible outcomes is not someone who should lead our nation.

So, now the election is over and I can't help but feel, at least a bit, as if perhaps one of the reasons that Sen. Obama won was precisely because of his intellectual prowess. Through three debates, numerous interviews, and countless rallies, he talked about ideas and, in doing so, he appeared, well, presidential. He didn't talk down to voters and he often discussed real issues (especially the economy) in more than mere sound bites (for example, go back and listen to the entire discussion with "Joe the Plumber"). Now, as he begins the transition process, President-elect Obama is working to select the best and brightest to surround him and party affiliation or past allegiance doesn't seem to be as much of a factor as ability. As President-elect Obama has stated, he relies upon advisors to help him make the best decisions for the country. His willingness to seek advice and, more importantly, to listen that advice, is one of the things to that attracted me to his candidacy in the first place.

And, apparently, I'm not the only one taking note of what the results of this election may mean for the importance of intellectual elitism in American politics. Michael Hirsh, writing in Newsweek:

We can finally go back to respecting logic and reason and studiousness under a president who doesn't seem to care much about what is "left," "right" or ideologically pure. Or what he thinks God is saying to him. A guy who keeps religion in its proper place — in the pew. It's no accident that Obama is the first Northern Democrat to be elected president since John F. Kennedy. The Sun Belt politics represented by George W. Bush — the politics of ideological rigidity, religious zealotry and anti-intellectualism — "has for the moment played itself out," says presidential historian Robert Dallek.

From the very start of his campaign, Obama has given notice that whatever you might think about his policies, they will be well thought out and soberly considered, and that as president he will not be a slave to passion or impulse. While his GOP opponent, a 72-year-old who has battled skin cancer, was cynically deciding for political reasons that a woman who apparently did not know that Africa is a continent rather than a country should be a heartbeat away from the presidency, Obama was setting up work groups to study every major international issue and region of the world. Through three debates with John McCain, he refused to be baited into personal attacks. And the more we have learned about his transition process, the clearer it becomes that he intends to be that kind of president as well. Against the very political concerns of some of his loyalists that he, the candidate of "change," is bringing too many ex-Clintonites on board, he is dispassionately welcoming-in the best brains (like Larry Summers, Laura Tyson and Gene Sperling) and most experienced hands (considering an extension of Bob Gates's tenure at the Pentagon, for instance). He is actively considering other Republicans for high posts.

How very presidential. And how very unusual.

Similarly, writing for The New York Times, Nicholas D. Kristoff notes:

Barack Obama’s election is a milestone in more than his pigmentation. The second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.

Maybe, just maybe, the result will be a step away from the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life. Smart and educated leadership is no panacea, but we’ve seen recently that the converse — a White House that scorns expertise and shrugs at nuance — doesn’t get very far either.

We can’t solve our educational challenges when, according to polls, Americans are approximately as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution, and when one-fifth of Americans believe that the sun orbits the Earth.

Almost half of young Americans said in a 2006 poll that it was not necessary to know the locations of countries where important news was made. That must be a relief to Sarah Palin, who, according to Fox News, didn’t realize that Africa was a continent rather than a country.

Perhaps John Kennedy was the last president who was unapologetic about his intellect and about luring the best minds to his cabinet. More recently, we’ve had some smart and well-educated presidents who scrambled to hide it. Richard Nixon was a self-loathing intellectual, and Bill Clinton camouflaged a fulgent brain behind folksy Arkansas aphorisms about hogs.

As for President Bush, he adopted anti-intellectualism as administration policy, repeatedly rejecting expertise (from Middle East experts, climate scientists and reproductive health specialists). Mr. Bush is smart in the sense of remembering facts and faces, yet I can’t think of anybody I’ve ever interviewed who appeared so uninterested in ideas.

Some may say that Obama's intellectual strengths had nothing to do with his election, arguing instead that it all came down to race and the economy. But I don't think that is right for two reasons. First, don't forget that Obama had to defeat several, highly qualified opponents (Sen. Clinton, anyone?) in the primaries before earning the right to face Sen. McCain. Something drew people to Obama in the primaries and it wasn't just race (his first primary victory was in Iowa...) and the economy hadn't imploded (and, even if it had, probably would not have necessarily been more "helpful" to Obama than to Sen. Clinton or John Edwards or any of the other candidates).

Speaking for myself, I remember one of the things that drew me to Obama (in the days when I was still undecided) was his decision to oppose a temporary ban on the federal tax on gasoline (supported by Sen. Clinton). That was one of those issues that sounded good on its face and made for a great sound bite, but when you really stopped to think about the real impact of the plan, you realized that it really was nothing more than a good sound bite. But it wasn't the issue that was particularly meaningful to me or that led me to support Obama; rather it was the way that Obama seemed to take time to think about the issue and make the right decision, rather than the decision that would play well in a sound bite and earn him a few extra votes.

Second, the fact that so many liberals and intellectuals (including some conservative thinkers like Christopher Buckley) were willing to work to make Obama's election a reality suggests that there was something to the candidate that inspired effort. I wanted John Kerry to win and I wanted Al Gore to win, but during neither of those elections did I do anything other than listen and vote. In this election, I (and apparently several million of my closest friends) did more than listen; we contributed, we wrote, we called, we talked, and then we voted. Something that Obama did or said made people like me take a more personal interest in this election campaign.

I don't know that Obama's intellectualism was the sole reason that people became interested and involved, but I do think that it was a reason.

So, as we watch the formative stages of the Obama administration and we see President-elect Obama being unapologetic about his desire to think about issues and to surround himself with the best and the brightest, I have great hopes that we will, indeed, leave behind the days when "intellectual" was a derogatory term and enter a new period in which those willing and able to engage in "deep thought" and careful, intellectual analysis of complex issues and problems will be valued. The President should be able to take a few deep breaths and think before making decisions that will effect the entire world. I'd rather that he get it right even if that means that we need to rely on his intellectual capacity and the intellectual abilities of those surrounding him.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama Names Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff

Yesterday, President-Elect Obama asked Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel to serve as Chief of Staff in the Obama White House. Today, after a bit of apparent soul-searching, Emanuel accepted the offer. I'm sure that there will be quite a bit written about this appointment in the coming days (discussing Emanuel's temperament, his political agenda, and his ties to the Clinton administration, among other things). But I wanted to write briefly about one element that may not get as much attention.

Jews supported Sen. Obama in large numbers (a few percentage points higher than Sen. Kerry received, it turns out). But much of that support was either lukewarm or contained an element of cautious concern about whether a President Obama would be "good for the Jews" or "good for Israel". Well, the appointment of Rahm to the most senior position in the Obama administration (remember that Karl Rove was President Bush's Chief of Staff for much of the Bush administration) should be good news for Jews. Why? Simple: Rahm is Jewish. In fact, he is a very observant Jew and is a member of a "modern Orthodox" congregation. His father was born in Jerusalem and they spoke Hebrew at home. Rahm attended a Jewish day school in Chicago (and received a masters from Northwestern). He was a civilian volunteer for the Israel Defense Forces during the first Gulf War. I'd say all of that should be enough to qualify him as a friend of Jews and Israel.

So, I would have to say that President-Elect Obama's selection for his Chief of Staff, at least is that selection impacts policies dealing with Jews and Israel, looks pretty good.


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Shifts in Voting Patterns

Sometimes graphs and maps really do explain things better than words and numbers. Take for example this map (originally from The New York Times) showing which counties voted more Republican in 2008 than in 2004:

Look at that large red swath that runs right through Appalachia and into northern Texas. With only a few scattered exceptions elsewhere on the map, that was the only region to increase its Republican vote. Now, compare that first map with the following map that also includes increases in Democratic voting:

Look at Indiana. The entire state voted more Democratic, and not just by small margins. And look at the Mountain West. With the exception of Arizona (Sen. McCain's home state) and a few other isolated counties, virtually the entire region (once a Republican stronghold) voted more Democratic.

Data like this must worry Republican strategists who have to figure out what went wrong (hint: Sarah Palin didn't help) and what to do differently in the 2010 Congressional races and 2012 Presidential election.


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LibraryThing: "The Lost Constitution"

The election is over and I finally finished The Lost Constitution by William Martin. I've updated my LibraryThing catalog with a brief review. I'm currently reading Extreme Measures [Mitch Rapp #9] by Vince Flynn.


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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Election Is Over -- Now What?

Well, the election is finally over. For the first time since before I was born, Indiana is blue, and I couldn't be more ecstatic. I didn't do a lot to help Sen. Obama win yesterday, but I didn't sit on my hands, either. I spent countless hours writing this blog. I took time to talk to friends and family to try to explain my rationale for supporting Sen. Obama and to try to address their concerns (and, if I do say so, I think that I was largely successful). I attended campaign rallies and information sessions, bought and wore an Obama t-shirt, proudly displayed an Obama bumper sticker on my car (and my wife's car), and posted an Obama sign in our yard. And I spent yesterday serving as a volunteer member of Sen. Obama's "army of lawyers" stationed at a poll in Muncie, Indiana, working to be sure that every eligible voter that wanted to vote had that opportunity (without regard to party affiliation...). I may not have put my life aside and joined the campaign in Iowa or New Hampshire, but I feel as if I did do something -- even if very small -- to make last night possible. And of that, I am immensely proud.
But what now? I have mixed feelings about the election being over. On one hand, I've thoroughly enjoyed blogging about the issues and the problems and the candidates. It gave me a sense of purpose (even if I did become a bit obsessive at times). The number of people who've been reading my blog has increased dramatically, which I'll admit did not hurt my own ego. I've enjoyed the conversations that I've had over dinners and at family gatherings. My brother-in-law and I have probably never had as many substantive conversations as those that we've had in the last few months and an ongoing email thread among my extended (and widely scattered family) has been a terrific opportunity for all of us to connect in ways that we can't do at bar mitzvahs and weddings. So, while I will certainly find new things to write about, I will miss much of what has gone on these last few months.
Then again, I won't miss the more negative aspects of the campaign. I would have preferred to have spent my time writing positive thoughts about the issues rather than taking time to refute baseless attacks or try to even the playing field by showing that Sen. McCain was not the idealized heroic figure he tried to portray. I would have preferred writing about why I support abortion rights or why I think gay marriage is not a threat or why I preferred Sen. Obama's healthcare proposals or why I think that we should negotiate with our neighbors; and I would have preferred not to have spent time writing about G. Gordon Liddy or African witchhunters or lobbyists or offensive campaign ads. That's not really who I am or what I'm all about, but it is what I felt that I needed to write about.
More importantly, I won't be sad to see an end to some of the strife that has infected civil discourse these last few months (and years...). As much as I enjoyed that email discussion with my family, I was troubled that the passions evoked by the campaign allowed one brother to use the word "hate" when talking to another; as much as I enjoyed discussing the issues with friends and family, I was troubled to see instances of racism and bigotry where I did not expect it; and as much as I enjoyed the opportunities to communicate and share with my friends and family, I was troubled by just how polarized some viewpoints were and how unwilling some people were to engage in open, honest debate without resort to talking points and simple (often hurtful) rhetoric. An honest examination of a candidate's record and proposals is one thing; a recitation of unsupported talking points or unsubstantiated rumors is something else; and comparisons terrorists or to Hitler or Mugabe is simply beyond the pale. (And, for the record, to address the comparison that Hitler, like Obama, was able to draw large crowds to rallies, I would suggest two major differences: Hitler used the rhetoric of hate and exclusion; Obama used the rhetoric of hope and inclusion.)
It saddened me that some people would just take something that they heard and assume it to be the truth and I was gratified when I saw others taking the time to actually think about issues, let alone research those issues or the history behind them. I will acknowledge that I, too, used harsh words. But, whenever possible, I made a concerted effort to back up my allegations with sources and citations and I did my best to try to explain, in a reasoned manner, my viewpoints.
Over the last few months, I've repeatedly noted my concerns about the level of vitriol that has infected political debate and discussion. I recited the story of my campaign for county office several years ago in which a voter told me that "Democrats don't have a right to serve in office, because you're all traitors" and I've bemoaned campaign rhetoric that emboldened supporters to shout "terrorist", "traitor", or "kill him". I've written about campaigns that alleged that the opposing candidate was "godless" and the failure in responding to that attack to rebut the presumption that atheists were somehow lesser members of our society. I've written about the smears based upon a person's race or religion and noted prominent statements (such as that by Colin Powell) that recognize that this sort of bigotry stands in opposition to the very foundations of our society. I've worried about rhetoric that presumes that some areas and some people are more "American" than others or that presumes that those who disagree with a certain philosophy are somehow "anti-American". I've lamented exclusionary laws and policies and xenophobic rhetoric. And I've discussed how damaging the politics of personal destruction are, not just to the targets of the attack, but to our democratic process itself.
Just yesterday -- election day -- my 9-year-old daughter came home from school crying because her friends had been mean to her just because she wanted Sen. Obama to win. My wife and I have tried to explain to our kids that we vote for candidates on the basis of their positions on issues that are important to us and that it is imperative that, as they grow up, our kids learn to think about those issues and make choices and decisions for themselves. Sure, we'd love for them to grow up with ideas that reflect ours, but we'd prefer that they grow up willing and able to think rather than just mimic. But while we tried to impart this lesson to our children, they were being confronted by "friends" whose parents instructed their own children to repeat vile lies to our kids, including that Sen. Obama "was a terrorist who had killed people", apparently in the hope that our kids would somehow sway our vote. Maybe that is one of the reasons that we let our kids go in to school a bit late this morning; instead of sending them off to the bus, we let them watch President-Elect Obama's victory speech on TiVo. We told them not to gloat at school. But we also told them to hold their heads high and be proud of last night's historic events. And I suggested to them that if anyone was mean to them today, they should just smile and say, "Yes We Can".
I have no idea what it must have been like to live through the Civil War. But we've all read about how that war and the issues of slavery and state's rights tore not only the nation but also families apart. How many times have we all heard about brother facing off against brother. Today, we're not faced by issues anywhere near as momentous or contentious as slavery. But the issues that we do face, whether economic issues like taxation or social issues like abortion and gay marriage or civil issues like patriotism and voter rights, seem to be having many of the same corrosive effects. And that worries me. If an issue like progressive taxation can bring one brother to use the word "hate" (even if only rhetorically) in a discussion with another brother, if the questions surrounding our "associations" can lead others to question our very patriotism, if discussions of the candidates' merits and of the electorate can lead one family member to question whether another family is a racist, if our own deep-seated prejudices can allow us to believe unsubstantiated rumors or make us want to believe the worst about a candidate, just because he or she is different, if a lie, told often enough, really does become the truth, and the use of a lie really is an effective campaign tool, and if parents will resort to using children to try to sway the opinions of their neighbors, then I have grave concerns about how our country and our civil society will be able to repair and heal these differences and move forward without tearing ourselves apart.
Which, I guess, brings me back to one of the main reasons that I voted for Barack Obama. Sure a great speech is just a bunch of words. But the content of his speeches, the desire to look beyond skin color, to look beyond party affiliation, to look beyond any of the myriad divisions and distinctions that have been used to tear us apart, is a powerful idea. And, though ideas may not be tangible -- I may not be able to take those ideas and use them to feed my children -- our country was founded and succeeded on the basis of ideas, and idealistic ones at that. For too long, we've allowed ourselves to be a collection of interest groups and for too long too many politicians have used wedge issues and the fear of each other and the unknown as a means to their own success and petty ambitions.
Maybe I'm an idealist; maybe I'm naive. But I do believe in Barack Obama's idea of hope and I reject the politics of fear and division embodied by Sen. McCain, Gov. Palin, and much of the Republican party (and if you still don't see that fear and division were at the core of the McCain campaign, not to mention many Republican Senate and House campaigns, then you simply haven't been paying attention). I want our country to be a better place, but I want our country to be one in which diversity, both in terms of who were are (whether race, religion, or any of the other categories used to divide us) and in terms of our ideas, is valued. I want our country to be a place where people are not afraid to stand up and articulate their ideas and their visions for the future and to debate those ideas and visions with others in a civil manner and with an open mind and willingness to, if nothing else, at least listen without first passing judgment. And I want our country to stop valuing mediocrity and again place a value on education and intellectual prowess. There is nothing wrong with a little "deep thought" now and then, and, when it comes to resolving the most important and difficult issues facing us, I'd much prefer leaders who really think about those issues and have the intellectual capacity to understand not only the challenges but the options and potential solutions and unintended consequences.
I don't know if Barack Obama will be a great President. I hope that he is. But I do think that if we at least give him a chance, if we all make a little effort to stop shouting at each other and start talking to each other, if we all spend a little more time thinking about issues instead of just repeating what some talking head tells us is right or true, then maybe, just maybe, America can live up to the ideals that we all learned back in junior high civics class and that the Founding Fathers believed would lead our country forward. One portion of President-Elect Obama's speech last night had a particular resonance for me:
Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state [Abraham Lincoln] who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House -- a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friends ... though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection." And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn -- I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.
We are living in difficult times. I hope that we are now at the beginning of a new more positive epoch for our country and the world that has so often looked to us as the example of justice and equality. I hope that my children won't have to explain to their children why some people hate others because of their skin color or because of their religion or because they have different ideas. I hope that my children never again experience the politics of hate and can, instead, grow up in a land where hope is not just a word.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

My Daughter Has a Message

When my daughter came home from school today, she decided to send a message:

Lily's Message

Just because she's out of cheerleading (with an injury) doesn't mean that she can't still lead cheers.

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I Voted!

I cast my vote this morning. I showed up at the Hamilton Country Government Center at 7:55 (the polls were supposed to open at 8:00). The line stretched from the doors of the building down the street to the corner. By a few minutes after 8:00, the line went around the corner and down the street, almost to the bridge. Then, for almost an hour, we waited ... and the line didn't move. Finally, at a few minutes before 9:00, the line started to move and from then, it seemed to move fairly steadily and at a fairly quick pace. From the time that I got in line until the time that I pressed the confirmation button on the voting machine (and yes, I went back and checked and re-checked that the machine registered my vote as intended), a total of about an hour and a half had elapsed. Not too bad, I guess.

So why did I vote early? Because I've agreed to work at the polls tomorrow!

(And sorry for the lack of updates over the weekend; my son had a soccer tournament a hour or so away from home and time was not something that I had an abundance of. There were a number of things that I wanted to write about; maybe I'll still write about some of them post-election, although I know that they'll be less meaningful. Oh, well.)


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