Month: June 2008

Swiftboating our candidates

At long last we know who the candidates are going to be. I, personally, hope that Obama chooses Hillary as his running mate despite the issues of electoral value and the unpredictability of Bill. As to John McCain, I am indifferent to his choice so long as the end result is a loss for the Republicans.

This is not to say that I don’t respect John McCain. He has earned our respect by what he did for the country, even though he almost erased that claim to respect by his unsavory involvement with Charles Keating and the Savings and Loan scandal. But no one will remember that, and even if they did, few of us have any real understanding of its true significance and complexities.

My concern now is the way our electoral system turns candidates’ assets into liabilities, and the way the press foments these misinterpretations. You may rest assured that the candidate who grows and changes his opinion will be accused of “waffling” and “flip-flopping.” The candidate who attempts to be civil and accommodating will be questioned about his toughness. Acting the belligerent bully will be seen as a sign of leadership qualities. Thus it has always been, even when wrapped in soft velvet as it was by Ronald Reagan. One can only hope that the current cabal of jackals — Bush, Rove, Cheney, and Rumsfeld — has soured us on such behavior and revealed its dangerous underbelly.

What bothers me the most is that the nature and quality of discourse that we accept from our candidates would result in our children being sent to their rooms if they were to practice it with their friends. Already we have seen McCain become a barking terrier nipping at Obama’s flesh; Obama become dissembling and disingenuous when forced to jettison his friend and mentor, Jeremiah Wright; and Hillary become a passive-aggressive whiner taking around-the-corner shots at Obama and the press for situations almost entirely of her own creation.

This is a sad state of affairs. These are good people. We each have our horse in the race, but anyone with an ounce of forgiveness and compassion sees that these, and the other candidates now fallen by the wayside, are concerned human beings with strengths and flaws no different than our own. Unlike the present administration, I see no cruelty in any of them. Yet our measure of their worthiness is their success at a game of “gotcha!” If they can avoid getting caught more than their opponents, they are likely to win.

What I would like to see is an attitude of tolerance and forgiveness on the part of each of the candidates and the press. Allow the candidates to be themselves, to make mistakes, to correct their mistakes, and to move on. Let them reveal themselves to best advantage in a long, slow unwinding of their thoughts and beliefs and ideas about governing. Give them room to adapt and grow.

Then, make your choice.

By my lights, the choice should not be hard. But the issue beneath the issue is that we must find a way to allow our candidates to show themselves to best advantage, not to measure their worthiness by how well they stand up under absurd questioning and relentless, often irrational and irrelevant scrutiny. To say that this sort of pressure is what is needed to temper the presidential steel is to promote a negative as a way to uncover a positive. It’s like saying if I spank my child enough, I’ll find out what he or she is made of. Perhaps this is a good way to determine who will be a good Marine, but, I submit, it is not a good way to raise a child or to determine who will be a good president.

So let’s watch and see how this plays out. We may well have broken some barriers in who we can choose as candidates. Now it’s time to break some barriers in finding ways to assess them.

An interesting exchange — give me your thoughts

I received this email from a man whose path crossed mine several years ago. He is an exceptional human being involved in exceptional work: several years ago he took off went to Gambia to do some doctoring for no reason other than it was a way to serve. His blogs and stories were the stuff of a modern day Schweitzer, though he would likely deny the similarity.

Anyway, he sent me a response of one of his friends to my last blog on Hillary. I find it instructive. I’m sending it on to you with my response attached. I would love to see others write their thoughts in the “comments” section at the bottom of my blog.

Here is the exchange:

Kent, here’s an email I got from a friend after pointing him to your latest “News from..” column.

This hadn’t occurred to me. I’d seen her drive as pure hubris. Perhaps not….


Mr Nerburn has, like very very many others, missed the point of Hilary’s fight entirely. Unfortunately there is absolutely no way that she can mention it. Quite simply, regardless of his qualities and likeability (wasn’t Bush supposed to be ‘likeable’?) he is black. The US is still very racist, and there is no way that a black candidate will become president at this time. An Obama win over Clinton will DEFINITELY result in McCain becoming president.

The remedy, difficult and no doubt unpopular amongst his supporters, is for Obama to face facts as they regrettably are, and stand aside to allow Clinton to be nominated. It really doesn’t matter whether she is the better candidate. We do not want another four or eight years of a Republican president – and that is what WILL happen if Obama stands.

The best solution, and maybe the only one that will give Democrats a fighting chance, is a Clinton/Obama ticket. After being a successful VP for four (or eight) years there is an excellent chance of him then getting the top job. He is young enough to wait.

If he does stand at this time, and inevitably loses, he will eliminate all hope of a black president for at least a decade.

Mr Nerburn seems to think that Clinton is just being stubborn and dishonest. So she is, and must be. If she told the truth (that Obama, being black, will not be elected) she would be denounced as racist and she too would be unelectable. It is a large minority of Democrat voters who are racist, but will not admit it openly. They will in voting though!

Maybe I’m the only one who thinks this, but I would hate to have to say “I told you so” come November! I’m very pessimistic. Democrats are unbeatable – at losing election. And they are heading that way yet again.


And my response to his response:

Hi David,

Good to hear from you. I stand in awe of what you’ve done since we met several years ago. We’re too old to have heroes, but we can certainly have exemplars, and you have proven to be one. Thanks for what you do.

Your friend is a smart man. I heard the same thing from a national photographer who was covering Hillary in Pine Ridge. He had been shadowing various candidates since before New Hampshire. He said that he thought McCain was going to win because the middle of America didn’t like Obama. He wasn’t as convinced that it was pure racism, but that was one ingredient in a stew that was potent and boiling. “There are no people that look like us” in Obama’s audiences, he said, referring to middle aged white guys.

Unscientific? Perhaps. But those were his words.

Perhaps my hope is based on being the father of a 19 year old who grabbed one of his friends and went to the Obama speech at the Excel Center last night. I guess I still believe in, or hope for, a “Children’s Crusade.” After all, we had one when we were young, though we didn’t pose it in those terms. Old white folks always come out to vote; perhaps young folks of all colors will be energized to do so by Obama. It’s my wish — more than that, it’s almost my prayer.

The frightening thing is that McCain even has a chance. If the Democrats can’t win this one, they should fold up their tent. They’re running against one of the weakest candidates in memory; they’re running on the worst economic situation in memory; and they’re running against easily the worst president in my lifetime and, perhaps, in the history of the republic. If they lose this, what hope is there?

At this one moment in time I have to refuse to let myself be as cynical as your friend, though I fear that his cynicism is simply realism. If we start to see some swiftboating bulletheads turning Obama into an upper class white man, and the Democrats let it happen, I’ll buy your friend a drink and we can drown our collective sorrows. But, for now, I’ve got to believe in the light in the young people’s eyes.

Thanks for writing. May our paths cross again.


If any of you have thoughts, please weigh in. Is Hillary’s constant refrain that she’s the candidate with the best chance to beat McCain really just realpolitik in action? Is it really just code for, “A black man can’t win”?