Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Book #17- White House Ghosts by Robert Schlessinger

April 29, 2009

No, this book isn’t actually about ghosts, it’s about speechwriters. The general premise is to go President-by-President from FDR to W, discuss their speechwriters and their role in the administrations. Basically, there were a few universal premises I can report. How good of a speaker a President was seemed directly related to how well he got along/functioned with his speechwriters. When things didn’t work out, Presidents got pissy and fired people. When things worked, Presidents took all the credit.

Schlessinger has some interesting stories. It’s good to know who told Reagan to say “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” or where “Ich Bein Ein Berliner” (which I probably spelled wrong– sorry, don’t do German) came from, or how Harry Truman’s speechwriters worked on the whistle stop campaign that won the 1948 Presidential election. As I say, the down side is that it’s all pretty much the same story with a different Presidential name.

Still, if you’re a history junkie, there is some interesting insight here, and I felt that Schlesinger was fair and non-partisan in his writing.


Onto the bandwagon totally

October 16, 2008

I’ve been very halfway in my support of Barack Obama in this campaign season. This morning, I am on the bandwagon completely though. I saw the future of American politics, and his name is Obama.

Throughout this campaign, I have contended, whether fair or unfair, that Obama, as potentially the first African-American president, could not be merely okay. He needs to be a trailblazer, a great leader, and a stable hand. I saw it last night in the final presidential debate.

My touchpoint with the Obama comparisons has always been Jackie Robinson. In coming into a game from which his race had been systematically excluded, Robinson couldn’t be merely an average player. He had to be a great player. And he had to be a special kind of great player. The maybe apocryphal, doubtlessly classic story that circulates is one of Branch Rickey testing Robinson, telling him that he would be booed and cursed and have names yelled at him and be spiked and beaned and beaten up whenever possible. Robinson ultimately recoiled and asked Rickey if he wanted a ballplayer who was afraid to fight back, and Rickey indicating that no, he wanted a ballplayer who was courageous enough not to fight back. One version of the story I just googled indicates Rickey then said, “You will symbolize a crucial cause. One incident, just one incident, can set it back 20 years.”

This is the vacuum into which Barack Obama steps, whether he wants to or not. I have been very excited as a white man by the prospect of an African-American or a female president because it opens the door to a day when it won’t be NOTEWORTHY that a candidate is an African-American or is a woman. I think of John F. Kennedy, and the victory he won for his faith in 1960. It scarcely is worth noticing now if a politician is Roman Catholic. Before Kennedy, it simply was not so.

If Obama does this job the way that America needs him to, and the way that I believe he can, he will do nothing less than change the way that African-Americans are perceived by a great majority of the U.S. population. And if he does less than that, he will also change the way African-Americans are perceived. Considering the stacked deck of national misery Obama stands to inherit, this was what scared me.

And last night, it all changed. He was asked a question about the qualification of Sarah Palin to serve as President. This might have been the Jackie Robinson moment. A lesser man would’ve been offended, would’ve taken the hate and fear-mongering that the Republican campaign has thrown at him, would’ve taken the overt lack of qualification of the lovely, doubtlessly charming, and wildly underqualified Ms. Palin and would’ve balled up his metaphysical fist and gotten ugly.

Obama didn’t take the bait. He said it was up to the voters. In that moment, he was Jackie Robinson. The pitcher threw inside and he hit the dirt. But he wouldn’t charge the mound, wouldn’t even act like the incident (or in this case two years of mud-slinging, from his nationality to his faith to his name) even bothered him. He got up, got back in the batters’ box, and indicated that it was time for the game to decide the merits of the players, not the color of their skin, or their odd middle name, or their irrelevant alleged association with “dangerous radicals”.

I know how the rest of the game went many times for Robinson. He lined out base hits, stole bases, made great catches, won countless victories for his team, and was generally known as a player’s player. He was so great that even the people who were predisposed not to like him had to admire him.

I was finally convinced last night that Obama has the same quality. The United States of 2009 stands to be even more challenging that the National League of the 1940s and 1950s. But Obama is a fearless leader ready to face down the challenges. And for the first time in a while, that knowledge (althought admittedly on hold pending Election Day) makes me happy for my country.


The cost of moral certainty

September 14, 2008

I’ve been reading Shelby Foote’s three volume Civil War history lately. It’s wonderfully well written, and does a nice job of bringing out the personalities of the War. Something that has really made an impression on me is the characteristic– I’m calling it moral certainty– that pretty much everyone with any involvement in the Civil War had in excess. Maybe it’s just a prerequisite of a civil war, but everyone involved seemed certain of the moral goodness of their respective causes, and were very excited about the prospect of fighting this war.

I thought about this sort of attitude in comparison to the public attitude toward our more modern-day fiascos in Vietnam and Iraq. I would assume that the people fighting and dying still had some moral certainty, but I hear stories and see things that cause me doubt Of course now that the government is known to essentially co-opt our military for their own private pissing contests, it’s no wonder that people aren’t morally certain about our ongoing military pursuits.

Is this a bad thing? Or am I sorry that moral certainty has faded? I don’t know. Of course, the bad thing about the decline of moral certainty is that if America becomes involved in another “necessary” war (if you subscribe to that idea- I’m thinking WWII sort here), our own people and military are probably second guessing it before it begins. On the other hand, isn’t that what we as Americans are supposed to do– endlessly second-guess everything our government does? We exist in a system of checks and balances and public opinion may be just another unseen check.

I’d like to pull out an old trick of mine and blame popular media, but I don’t know if that’s legitimate. There have probably been anti-war journalists since there has been written history. Another thought I had is that perhaps the speed and tactical sophistication of war has in some level changed the picture. I don’t know. Does anybody?


USA 2008- A Long Walk Home

June 28, 2008

I recently read some comments from Barack Obama on how delighted he was to have been endorsed by two of my heroes, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. In the midst of a recent Boss listening session, it occurred to me that if Obama really appreciates his task, he might find his perfect campaign theme song– Bruce’s “Long Walk Home”.

The narrator of the song begins my talking about a love he has lost, and looking into the distance at his hometown. In the second verse, he walks through the town, which is itself a ghost town at the moment.

But the thematic guts of the thing, and the part that strikes square in the heart of Obama’s mission, is the last verse of the song:

(pasted from, with one correction)

My father said “Son, we’re lucky in this town
It’s a beautiful place to be born
It just wraps its arms around you
Nobody crowds you, nobody goes it alone.
That old flag flying over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone
Who we are, what we’ll do and what we won’t.”

(end paste)

And then comes the refrain: “Its gonna be a long walk home/
Hey pretty Darling, don’t wait up for me”, which is repeated many times.

Barack Obama’s message of change in a well-chosen one. But I hope that the promisor, as well as the promisees, realize that we are in for a long walk home. Half a decade of unwinnable war, the devestation of New Orleans, the so-called Patriot Act, for that matter even something as relatively minor as $4 per gallon gasoline– these last eight years have moved our nation, and our respective hometowns millions of  miles away from the principles which were purported to be set in stone by a million flags over a million courthouses. Maybe what these past eight years have been about has been learning that there is little that America will not do, if the wrong person or persons are in control. Or maybe it has been learning that a nation as ideologically divided as America is in great danger of losing any collective identity that ever existed– soon, it seems, EVERYBODY may be going it alone.

Barack Obama and his constituents will need to remember that change is an enviable, but not easy goal. Undoing all of eight years of mistakes promises to be a very long walk home for everyone.