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America Politics Presidents

Nuance This!

Greg Sargent of The Washington Post points to a telling section of Mitt Romney’s entirely predictable critique of Obama’s handling of the situation in Libya:

“I believe that it flows from his fundamental disbelief in American exceptionalism. In the President’s world, all nations have ‘common interests,’ the lines between good and evil are blurred, America’s history merits apology. And without a compass to guide him in our increasingly turbulent world, he’s tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced.” [emphasis mine]

The first three adjectives Romney uses in the last clause to describe the President are typical of right-wing critics. But the last one is new, though, again, entirely unsurprising. That the 2012 Republican frontrunner sees nuance in a president’s approach to foreign policy as a weakness reveals that the black-and-white, good-vs.-evil dichotomy perfected by George W. Bush is still alive and well in Republican dogma.

Of course, the other GOP frontrunner out there has been a walking example of this no-nuance policy every time she speaks.

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America Politics Presidents

Sarah Palin Is Not A Serious Person

If Sarah Palin plans to run for president in 2012 (which I’m not yet sure if she’ll do), many people will vote for her. But count me as one of those Americans who will not check the box for Sarah Palin if that day comes.

There are a few reasons why I won’t vote for Palin for president. The biggest one, though, believe it or not, does not involve her politics. As a political moderate I agree with Palin on some issues and disagree strongly on others, which is also the case with the President.

The biggest reason, then, why I will not vote for Sarah Palin is that Sarah Palin is not a serious person.

In times like these as well as in times of prosperity, the President of the United States must be a serious person. This doesn’t mean they can’t be fun or funny; it means they have to understand the seriousness of the job and have the natural capacity to perform that job well.

Barack Obama is a serious person. I knew that when I voted for him. His politics aside, when he ran for president he understood the seriousness of the job. Sarah Palin, I think, does not.

If she were a serious person, she would not have quit the governorship of Alaska halfway through her term to become a TV star and write a book.

If she were a serious person, she would not use Facebook notes (which are probably written by a publicist anyway) to spread misinformation about health care reform and other serious issues I think deep down she knows to be false.

If she were a serious person, she would not tote her Down syndrome baby under her arm at every stop on her book tour to show off her “pro-life credentials” to her fans.

If she were a serious person, she would prepare for being president not by throwing firebombs on FOX News but by supporting bipartisan compromise and studying up on foreign and domestic affairs.

If she were a serious person, she would not be instigating so much anti-government hatred from the Tea Partiers when she has no intention of doing anything to solve the problems they decry except for make another stump speech rife with tired talking points.

Of course, all of this presidential-run talk is still speculative. And the fact that so many people care so much about Palin’s political future that they’re talking about it so early and frequently simply plays into Palin’s hand. But if she does run, she will have the Tea Party movement and its acolytes behind her. If she were a serious person, she would know she needs more than pissed off conservatives to win a presidential election.

But she is not a serious person. And it doesn’t look like she intends to become one any time soon. If that’s the case, and she does in fact run for the Republican nomination in 2012 and wins it, consider this my formal un-endorsement.

Seriously.

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Politics Presidents Religion

Rumsfeld’s Biblified Briefings

Last week, GQ magazine reported that the top secret intelligence briefings that were sent to President Bush by the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003 were often adorned with inspirational Bible verses and images meant to influence the president, who is a self-described Christian and often liked the conflict in Iraq to a modern day “crusade.”

A few examples of these briefings:

March 17, 2003. A picture of two American soldiers topped with the verse Isaiah 6:8, which says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Here I am, Lord, send me!”46983181

April 7, 2003. A picture of Saddam Hussein topped with the verse 1 Peter 2:15, which says, “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

April 8, 2003. A picture of American tanks driving underneath two large crossed swords topped with the verse Isaiah 26:2, which says, “Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, The nation that keeps faith.”

Bush was completely open about the impact of his Christian faith on the decisions in his presidency, and Rumsfeld was a grossly incompetent defense secretary, so I can’t say I was surprised when I heard about this.

Yet I don’t know which part of me is more outraged: the Christian or the American.

Rumsfeld might not have personally put the verses on the briefings. Odds are, according to GQ, it was Maj. Gen. Glen Shaffer, a director for intelligence who served both Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But that point is moot; the nation’s highest military officer wielded strong religious rhetoric in order to push a country into war. I don’t know what could be more irresponsible.

“Defense department staff were privately worried,” GQ reports, “that if the briefings with biblical quotes on them had ever been made public, the fallout would have been ‘as bad as [the revelations of prisoner abuse at] Abu Ghraib.’” Time will tell if the public takes as much umbrage at these revelations as it did with the Abu Ghraib scandal. My guess is that it won’t, because the majority of religious Americans identify themselves as Christians.

Yet why does this anger me so? Perhaps because Rumsfeld, a nonreligious man, cynically used Christian scripture to manipulate a man who had seemingly already made up his mind to invade Iraq and “stay the course.” Hey Rummy, ever heard about those silly little medieval crusades the European Christian church undertook against the Muslims? Yeah, they don’t look so hot in the history books.

The release of these documents came at an inopportune time for Dick Cheney, the former vice president, who was out on a media blitz trying to defend his legacy. But it’s not like the current opinion of the Bush administration could get any more tarnished than it is. That’s why I don’t think this will be as big a scandal as the others. The public—myself and the current president included—has tried to move on from Bush and Rumsfeld and the Holy War.

These documents are but another stack in the “That Figures” box.

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America History Politics Presidents

The President Of My Youth

I remember just a few things from the Clinton ’90s: Kosovo, Elian Gonzalez, and impeachment mostly. But most of the decade flew by under my radar as I concerned myself with more important things like the world champion Green Bay Packers and what colors I wanted for my braces. It was seventh grade when I finally paid attention to something that adults cared about: the 2000 election.

My social studies teacher, like every other at the time, had us involved with the election. We learned who the candidates were, what the Electoral College was, and how many votes you needed to win. My friend Ryan and I made up nicknames for the candidates-“Gush” and “Bore” were the favorites. We even got to “vote” on Election Day in our very own school-wide election. As my classmates voted I acted like a TV journalist gathering exit polls which I reported to my teacher. Then, I went into the booth and voted for George W. Bush.

It has been a little over eight years since that day. Times have changed and so has my vote; it went for Obama this year. Yet as I watch our 43rd president fade away into the background, I have mixed emotions. Sure, the country has gone to a tame version of hell, but my last eight years of life (my entire adolescence) were never without Bush in the White House. And in that time, I’ve gone through a plethora of feelings about the man.

First was apathy. I remember the 2000 election debacle vividly because my name was in the news every night thanks to those old voters in Dade County who couldn’t manage to push a paper dot hard enough. But once it was decided, I didn’t really care. Even after the terrorist attacks and Bush’s subsequent popularity surge, I was too young for him to make an impact on me.

In the meantime, everything bad happened: Katrina, the Iraq debacle, Guantanamo Bay, the Abu Ghraib scandal, Alberto Gonzales. Then the 2006 midterm elections went for the Democrats and I started to pay attention. I began to lean left. (Living in the ultraliberal Madison, Wis., certainly helped.) I read the Huffington Post and watched Keith Olbermann a lot, relying too heavily on their liberal outrage to dictate my political beliefs.

Their opinion of Bush was becoming mine too: I became increasingly convinced he was a scheming far right hawk hell-bent on jailing all dissenters and propagating through Fox News, all the while fleecing Middle America and laughing while major cities flooded and foreign countries burned. Arianna Huffington and Keith Olbermann continue to think this and said so throughout the 2008 election. It helped get Obama elected and Bush became a lamer duck in the process.

But ever since the election, my righteous anger has settled. I now think Bush is not evil but flawed, a tad misunderstood and, dare I say it, underappreciated. Sure, his “Bring it on” braggadocio and “Mission Accomplished” banner were mistakes. He dropped the ball post-Katrina and did not speak candidly about Iraq and WMD. His No Child Left Behind Act was misguided and his economic policies exacerbated an already growing problem.

Yet, despite all that, I don’t hate him. There was a time when I would have refused to shake his hand if I met him simply because of our differing political views, but I’ve moved on from that. Perhaps it’s pity, seeing him roundly crucified by the left for his mistakes large and small. Perhaps it’s because of our common Christian faith. Perhaps it’s because I’m beginning to get annoyed with liberals.

If I were to meet not George Bush the president but George Bush the father and family man, I think I would really like him. He’s a laid-back straight shooter who probably holds a conversation at a barbeque much better than he does at a press conference. He obviously doesn’t take himself too seriously and can withstand a brutal bombardment of criticism much better than most.

“George Walker Bush is not a stupid or a bad man,” writes Ron Suskind in Esquire magazine. “But in his conduct as president, he behaved stupidly and badly.”

Because he behaved stupidly and badly, Bush will leave with comically low approval ratings. He has said repeatedly that history will hold his unpopular acts in higher regard than they are today. He’s right, to an extent. Presidents Lincoln and Truman made grave and consequential decisions that ended the Civil War and World War II, respectively. Bush is no Lincoln (far from him) but both men stuck to their guns. Bush has always stuck to his guns, no matter what. Even when things got bad, he “stayed the course.” It was simultaneously honorable and maddening.

History in fact will reveal if he was right to do so, but judgments of Bush cannot be written today with a clear head. The old wounds are still fresh and the animosity still potent.

Now we’ve got a new president to love or loathe. Let us learn from the last eight years to separate the man from the mission. Obama, like Bush, is a good man who will have to make tough decisions and live with the consequences forever. If we can discern the policy from the personal, I think we will all have fairer views of the people who take on the toughest job in the world.

George W. Bush may be crossing the finish line with a limp, but at least he finished the race. You’ve got to give him props for that.

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America History Presidents

Lovin’ Lincoln

I finally went on the most important pilgrimage a history buff must go on: to Springfield, IL, for the loads of Lincoln lore there.

First, I went with my dad to the Old State Capitol where Lincoln worked as a state legislator. Though mostly recreated, the building smacked of authenticity.

But the biggest and best place to be in Springfield is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum. Packed to the brim with memorabilia, the museum had a traveling exhibit of campaign gear from presidential elections past. The exhibit also displayed one of the three cameras used in the Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960.

2003751951
Lincoln's hat.

Next, a recreation of Lincoln’s early life locales: his log cabin home, the general store he owned for a bit, and the law offices in Springfield. My favorite part, however, was the walk-through of his White House years, where we saw Mary Todd’s dresses, a tableau of the famed “team of rivals” in the Cabinet room debating the Emancipation Proclamation, and finally the assassination at Ford’s Theater. Outside of that section was more memorabilia: locks of Lincoln’s hair, personal letters, and one of his three trademarked stove pipe hats which had two worn spots on the brim from when he would tip his hat to passersby.

I repeat: I saw Lincoln’s stove pipe hat.

Later we visited the Lincoln home. We walked where the man walked and touched the same banister. I know I’m nearing idol-worship here, but I appreciate the man more having been through his life a little bit. We also visited the Lincoln tomb, which was very solemn and reverant experience.

I’ve started reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. I’ve been meaning to get to it for a while, but now I actually have some motivation to delve further into the man’s life, having now been through it (albeit superficially).

With Lincoln’s 200th birthday coming up in February 2009, I’d highly recommend checking out Springfield, if only for a day. Make sure to get to the museum and the Lincoln home. They far exceed the worth of the drive.

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Politics Presidents

The Obama Relationship For President

Of the many reasons why I will be voting for Barack Obama come Election Day, this is one of the big ones.

It’s something that has not been talked about at all, but that doesn’t make it less important. After eight years of watching George and Laura Bush, who are rarely seen together and appear to show little affection for each other in public; and before that, the Clintons, who have a strained marriage that seems more political than personal–it would be nice to have a strong marriage of two equally capable and loving partners in the White House.

I noticed that way back in the early primaries when I watched a few speeches by Michelle Obama and read about their home life–how grounded and normal they were. It was refreshing to see a potential First Lady be willing to chip away at the facade of the “inspirational politician” in order to be real.

Plus–and I know this sounds superficial–but I just really want to see the Obama family in the White House. Barack and Michelle’s obvious loving relationship plus their two girls just looks a little more appealing than seeing Grandpa McCain and his wife Cindy for four more years. In many ways it would be like the Kennedys, albeit without the serial philandering.

Anyway… I’ve been thinking about that for a while. With the GOP’s obsession with “family values,” I find it disappointing how the Obamas don’t get credit for being a great family (as far as we can tell). For their sake, I hope Barack wins so they can become the example of what an American family can look like.

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America Media Politics Presidents

The Absurdity Of Campaign ’08

Presidential elections, for all their consequence, can get laughably ridiculous. This year we’ve been subjected to conversations about pigs with lipstick, arugula, Paris Hilton, and field-dressing moose. Standard fare, these days, but at least these trivialities don’t stay in the news cycle for too long.

The bigger issues like sexism and which candidates have more experience don’t really go away, however. In fact, with Sarah Palin now in the mix and the campaigns’ attacks going into overdrive, the back-and-forth about sexism and experience within the media and between the campaigns have revealed two deep hypocrisies both campaigns and parties want to ignore.

For John McCain and the Republicans, it’s sexism. Up until August 28 of this year, the GOP had no problem tearing Senator Hillary Clinton down in every way. Her politics, her appearance, her personal life, her gender-nothing was sacred. Whenever Clinton or her surrogates cried sexism, they were told to stop whining. After all, if a woman candidate couldn’t handle criticism from the press, she wouldn’t be able to handle being president.

Then, on August 29, everything changed. John McCain chose Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. Suddenly, Republicans were feminists. A bit on “The Daily Show” spliced footage of conservative commentators ripping into Hillary from months before and then defending Palin on the same grounds later. It was ridiculous. I sat there watching, aghast at the blatant hypocrisy and hugely selective memory of Karl Rove and Sean Hannity and Dick Morris.

Part of the calculation of the Palin pick was to win over some women Clinton supporters who are still bitter about losing to Obama. But my guess is that those same supporters also have not forgotten how poorly Hillary was treated by the same people who now support McCain. The pick may eventually backfire, or it may not; but it still won’t make McCain and the Republicans champions of women’s rights. At least in the eyes of Hillary supporters.

The second Grand Hypocrisy of ’08 involves Palin too, but instead of sexism, it is about ‘change vs. experience.’ In terms of narratives, it was pretty much established that ‘Obama is to change as McCain is to experience.’ Each candidate bludgeoned voters with their respective catchphrases at every debate and every stump speech.

But Obama was the first to stray from his own manufactured narrative by choosing Senator Biden as his running mate. It was a logical and safe choice for him to have a respected expert on foreign policy on the ticket in order to reassure voters of his readiness to lead. Even if the pick did pollute his message of “change,” the very foundation of his candidacy, it mostly went under the radar.

Then McCain broke with his own message by choosing Palin, just as he claims he breaks with his own party (maverick!). There were probably few vice-presidential contenders on either side of the aisle with less foreign policy experience than Palin had, yet McCain chanced polluting his own message by picking her anyway.

This is where the hypocrisy kicks in: the Obama campaign released a statement in response to the Palin pick ridiculing the governor’s lack of executive experience and foreign policy credentials, conveniently ignoring the nearly equal lack of experience Obama has. In a way, Palin has more experience than Obama because she was a mayor and a governor (if only for a short time) which are positions that equip the politician with executive experience.

Both campaigns have ignored these double standards, of course, because they are on one-track minds-tracks that lead to the White House. It’s politics, after all. You don’t run for president to be nice to everyone all the time.

This whole election has become absurd, hasn’t it? Important and historical, certainly, but absurd nonetheless. It’s no wonder many people throw up their hands in disgust and dramatically declare they’re never voting again. Never!

But vote we must. After what essentially will have been a two-year campaign for president, what we do on Election Day will be the collective response to everything we’ve learned, endured, and debated in that time. It would seem even more absurd to allow ourselves to be subjected to such nonsense and not have the final say on November 4.

So keep that in mind as the mud flies to and fro. Both candidates will be dirty when it’s all over, but we get to decide which man will be able to shower in the White House.

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History Life Politics Presidents

Forty-One

I’m watching the video tribute to George H. W. Bush at the Republican National Convention. It reminded me how great a person and American he is. World War II fighter pilot, Congressman, Ambassador to the U.N., envoy to China, Director of the CIA, Vice-President, and finally, President — there are few public servants with such a record.

Seeing him at the ripe age of 84, he reminded me of my grandpa Cliff, both by his appearance and by his resume. Grandpa Cliff served as a lieutenant in Patton’s Third Army, trudging through the Battle of the Bulge, then through decades of service in the FBI. Both men are decorated members of the Greatest Generation.

I watched the Bush Sr. episode of American Experience a while back and it explained that regardless of some of Bush Sr.’s decisions in office, he held true to his own code of honor and dignity. That code guided him through some tough times and hard decisions. Even when the decisions were unpopular. Perhaps we’ll be thinking the same things about 41’s son Dubya one day. Or not.

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America Politics Presidents

And So It Begins…

Barack Obama and Joe Biden versus John McCain and Sarah Palin. Now this is a race.

The first thing I thought when I heard the news of McCain’s VP choice was that it was brilliant on his part. Not only is he trying to siphon Hillary supporters away from Obama with the choice of a younger woman, but he announced it the day after Obama’s convention speech in order to neutralize his post-convention bump.

Then, as I read up on Palin and read a few opinions of the choice, I see a fascinating paradigm between the two tickets. First, there’s Obama and Biden. Obama, an unconventional and historic candidate with limited legislative and foreign policy experience, pairs with an old seasoned Washington insider who is an expert on foreign policy.

Now look at the McCain-Palin ticket. McCain, the old seasoned Washington insider who is a self-proclaimed expert on foreign policy, chooses Palin, an unconventional and historic candidate with limited legislative and foreign policy experience.

Within each ticket, the contrasts are stark. One is a young black man, the other is an old white guy. One is an old white guy, the other is a young white woman.

Clearly, McCain wanted in on the Change narrative of the election. If he had picked Romney or Tom Ridge or Joe Lieberman, there would not have been anything special about the ticket. But now McCain has something to offer those who want to see some sort of change.

Time will show if the Hillary Hold-Outs will actually defect and vote for McCain simply because he will have a female vice president. But that also brings up another thought: with McCain’s health and age in question, America will have to wonder if they want the possiblility of having a female Commander in Chief. We’ve just assumed that question concerned Hillary Clinton. But not anymore.

Who is Sarah Palin? We’ll be finding out shortly. She’s going to have to debate Joe Biden, who’s foreign policy experience is deep and respected. But in an election that has quickly become a mandate on the economy more so than the wars or anything other pressing issue, both tickets will be fighting for supremacy.

There are approximately 67 days until the election. It’s going to be a long 67 days, that’s for sure.

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America Politics Presidents

Liveblogging History

I’ll be updating this post throughout the night, reacting to the candidates speeches…

John McCain’s speech tonight is painful to watch. It has nothing to do with what he’s saying, but rather his delivery and the crowd’s reaction. Have you ever noticed how he smiles awkwardly after taking a jab at an opponent or says something clever?

He’s a competent public speaker–though not as good as Obama–but sometimes it’s just painful sometimes. What’s more weird is his supporters at the speech. At various times, they’ve chanted “Go John McCain” and “John McCain”. I don’t know–it’s just kind of funny to me.

………..

As of 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 3, 2008, a black man is a major nominee for president. I’ve been watching the cable news responses to the historic moment. I’ve heard comparisons to the moon landing, mentions of RFK and Dr. King.

Though I won’t commit to a candidate until another time, I can say that I’m proud to be an American who appreciates the historical significance of this night. As a 20-year-old, I don’t see race the same way as my parents or grandparents, so I’ve been frustrated when race becomes an issue in the campaign. It doesn’t make a lick of difference whether the President of the United States is a black man or a white woman or a white man. The person who wins the presidency will win it for a reason. That’s just true.

………………..

This is even more interesting: Clinton supporters started chanting “Yes, she will!” Contrast that with the Obama refrain “Yes, we can!”

Fascinating. It’s not about the people with Hillary. It’s about her actions, her politicking. Plus, it implies the classic politician’s false promises, that things will get done. History shows that campaign promises are bullshit. Obama’s chant doesn’t focus on him and it doesn’t make any promises. Given his past as a community organizer in Chicago, this makes sense. It’s about trying and working.

—Great Scott. Clinton supporters are chanting “Denver! Denver!” Yeah, that’s a good idea. Might as well shout “President McCain!”

———————–

Obama, the presumptive nominee, walks out to his speech to U2’s “Beautiful Day”. The lyrics, fittingly, go, “It’s a beautiful day. Don’t let it slip away.”

Wow. Compared to Clinton and McCain, Obama is so composed and even. He barely even smiles. You would think that would be a negative, but McCain and Clinton visibly react to their own lines, which weakens their performance.

It’s so funny to watch and listen to the supporters at each of the speeches. Whenever the candidate mentions the other, the crowd boos and hisses. But then they qualify their jab with a noble statement about their opponent, and the boos turn to polite applause. I don’t know…I just think it’s funny.

Obama’s speech was pretty different from the others, mostly in terms of presentation and rhetoric. But that’s nothing new. I just keep thinking about how much Obama’s slogans and platitudes are larger not about him at all: “Change We Can Believe In”, “We, Yes Can”. He’s more focused on a larger movement.