Tag Archives: barack obama

Inaugural History

A joint project by a friend, Chicago artist MK Czerwiec, and me: “Great Moments in Inaugural Address History.” Let me explain about joint project: I suggested the idea and did some research; MK did all the heavy lifting of making the art happen. (Click for larger view.)

InaugurationFinal.jpg

Copyright 2009 MK Czerwiec. All rights reserved.

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Notebook

Some people who would have loved to see this day: Mom and her brothers, all of them. South Side Irish, acutely aware that there was something wrong in the racial situation around them and all determined to a greater or lesser extent to do something about it. Bill — Bill Hogan — gave his life to the cause, Mom found a purpose in the civil rights struggle at moments when her own life was nearly unbearably difficult, and the rest gave what they could. They would be thrilled today. And one other person I'm thinking about: my mentor and our old family friend Max McCrohon. He would have loved this, too.

Dueling ministers: Rick Warren, the Southern California evangelical who gave the inaugural invocation, cut right to the heart of what makes my skin crawl about conservative Christians. His first words: "Almighty God, our father, everything we see and everything we can’t see exists because of you alone." I guess if you're in the god business, that's the position you've got to take. And Warren himself, may the fairy sprites and trickster spirits of the world bless him, talks about the need to build bridges rather than walls with faith. But this particular brand of straight-laced "our way is The Way" preaching, this sort of Christian certainty, bespeaks an openness that's only open as long as you embrace it. Much more to my taste was the Rev. Joseph Lowery's benediction, which began with lyrics from the hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing" [not "Lift Every Voice and Thing," as I earlier wrote] and ended:

"Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen. Say Amen. And Amen."

More later, maybe.

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The Times Endorses …

a guy from Illinois. You were expecting what? A surprise?

The Gray Lady’s endorsement editorial begins:

“Hyperbole is the currency of presidential campaigns, but this year the nation’s future truly hangs in the balance.

“The United States is battered and drifting after eight years of President Bush’s failed leadership. He is saddling his successor with two wars, a scarred global image and a government systematically stripped of its ability to protect and help its citizens — whether they are fleeing a hurricane’s floodwaters, searching for affordable health care or struggling to hold on to their homes, jobs, savings and pensions in the midst of a financial crisis that was foretold and preventable.”

It’s amazing the nation produced anyone who wants the job.

Online, the Times offers an entertaining adjunct to its Obama endorsement: A gallery of all the endorsements it has made since 1860, when it backed another Illinoisan (the taller of the pair in the race that year). The gallery bravely includes some of the reasoning that went into the endorsements. The rationales range from wildly misplaced hopes to something that approaches prescience.

In the first category, here’s how the Times led off its argument for the re-election of U.S. Grant (over Democrat Horace Greeley) in 1872:

“Greeley’s election would mean the unsettling of business all over the country.–Gen. Grant’s would instantly lead to the recovery of trade from the excitement of a Presidential election, and insure the continued prosperity of the entire Union.”

How did Grant’s era of prosperity pan out? See Panic of 1873.

And then there’s the second category, when the editorialists seemed to be pretty well tuned in to the choice of candidates and their potential impact on the future. Here’s part of what they said to back their endorsement of the eventual popular-vote winner in 2000:

“This is … the first presidential campaign in recent history centered on an argument over how best to use real, bird-in-the-hand resources to address age-old domestic problems while also defining the United States’ role in a world evermore dependent on it for farsighted international leadership. …”

“…Mr. Bush’s entire economic program is built on a stunning combination of social inequity and flawed economic theory. He would spend more than half the $2.2 trillion non-Social Security surplus on a tax cut at a time when the economy does not need that stimulus. Moreover … more than 40 percent of the money would go to the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers. … There is nothing compassionate or conservative about blowing the surplus on windfalls for the wealthy instead of investing it in fair tax relief and well-designed social programs.”

It’s worth going back and reading the rest of that one to revisit the days when Bush could be characterized outside a comedy sketch as “the most moderate Republican nominee in a generation.”

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The Times Endorses …

a guy from Illinois. You were expecting what? A surprise?

The Gray Lady’s endorsement editorial begins:

“Hyperbole is the currency of presidential campaigns, but this year the nation’s future truly hangs in the balance.

“The United States is battered and drifting after eight years of President Bush’s failed leadership. He is saddling his successor with two wars, a scarred global image and a government systematically stripped of its ability to protect and help its citizens — whether they are fleeing a hurricane’s floodwaters, searching for affordable health care or struggling to hold on to their homes, jobs, savings and pensions in the midst of a financial crisis that was foretold and preventable.”

It’s amazing the nation produced anyone who wants the job.

Online, the Times offers an entertaining adjunct to its Obama endorsement: A gallery of all the endorsements it has made since 1860, when it backed another Illinoisan (the taller of the pair in the race that year). The gallery bravely includes some of the reasoning that went into the endorsements. The rationales range from wildly misplaced hopes to something that approaches prescience.

In the first category, here’s how the Times led off its argument for the re-election of U.S. Grant (over Democrat Horace Greeley) in 1872:

“Greeley’s election would mean the unsettling of business all over the country.–Gen. Grant’s would instantly lead to the recovery of trade from the excitement of a Presidential election, and insure the continued prosperity of the entire Union.”

How did Grant’s era of prosperity pan out? See Panic of 1873.

And then there’s the second category, when the editorialists seemed to be pretty well tuned in to the choice of candidates and their potential impact on the future. Here’s part of what they said to back their endorsement of the eventual popular-vote winner in 2000:

“This is … the first presidential campaign in recent history centered on an argument over how best to use real, bird-in-the-hand resources to address age-old domestic problems while also defining the United States’ role in a world evermore dependent on it for farsighted international leadership. …”

“…Mr. Bush’s entire economic program is built on a stunning combination of social inequity and flawed economic theory. He would spend more than half the $2.2 trillion non-Social Security surplus on a tax cut at a time when the economy does not need that stimulus. Moreover … more than 40 percent of the money would go to the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers. … There is nothing compassionate or conservative about blowing the surplus on windfalls for the wealthy instead of investing it in fair tax relief and well-designed social programs.”

It’s worth going back and reading the rest of that one to revisit the days when Bush could be characterized outside a comedy sketch as “the most moderate Republican nominee in a generation.”

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Game Token

Venturing into deep waters, but here goes: I think it’s safe to say that with Sarah Palin on the ticket, Team McCain has all but sewn up the battle for Alaska’s three electoral votes.

Palin’s sudden elevation from obscure environmental menace to No. 2 on the ticket is the most surprising rise to national prominence since Bush II named Harriet Myers to the Supreme Court. It’s reminiscent, too, of the cynicism that led Bush I to nominate Clarence Thomas to the court.

In the Myers case, the choice met with derision: Mr. President, you’re asking us to believe you have searched our great land high and low and that this is the best candidate for our most august tribunal? Of course, under this president, the notion that competence is a prerequisite, or even desirable, for high office has taken a beating. But in the Myers case, the howls were so loud and insistent from all quarters that the president was forced to let his friend withdraw herself from consideration for the court.

McCain’s choice of Palin provokes the Myers reaction all over again. Senator McCain, you’ve combed the ranks of GOP officeholders everywhere–and even a non-GOP one in the repugnant person of Joe Lieberman–and this is the person you want us to believe is the best-qualified to vault into high office?

OK–if you say so.

As even the dimmest pundit can see and as Palin herself made clear in her debut, she’s on the ticket as a magnet for the legions of Hillary Clinton voters so crushed by Obama winning the Democratic nomination that they’re going to vote for McCain. For them, Palin would clinch the deal. Or maybe McCain and his brain trust believe that everyone who voted for Clinton voted for her because she was a woman. Run out a new body in a pantsuit, put some of the same rhetoric on stage, and see whether anyone notices the difference.

We’ll see how that works, I guess. Meantime, from the Republicans, the party that has fought affirmative action at every turn, arguing that it begets tokenism and promotes the unqualified over the qualified, we get another bizarre episode of tokenism to ponder. When civil rights pioneer Thurgood Marshall died, they found a black man bent on reversing his legacy to take his seat on the Supreme Court. When Sandra Day O’Connor retired from the court, they suggested a woman without a scintilla of judicial experience or preparation to replace her. And now, to appeal to the partisans of Clinton–as steadfast an opponent of the GOP right as any Democrat–they put up a right-wing Republican.

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Pre- and Post Mortem

The primaries are over. And now it’s time for … the 2008 Electoral Vote Predictor. (Would you like polls with that?)

The Clinton campaign is over. Now it’s time for the post mortems. The New York Times’ “this is how history unfolded” piece published online soon after Clinton gave her farewell address dwells on the backbiting and infighting inside Clinton World (and talks about the obvious ways, such as not recognizing until it was too late that Obama was blitzing Clinton in the caucus states, in which the campaign blew it). A better piece, for my money (editor’s note: US$0.00), is one from NBC’s Chuck Todd that focuses on other points, especially the Clintons’ decline over the past couple of years as forces in the party and the Clinton campaign’s early decision to de-emphasize the candidate’s role as history-making woman. And then there’s the people’s post mortem: readers at Talking Points Memo discussing the speech and the campaign.

Maybe the story has been written and I’ve missed it (send me the links), but it seems to me that there’s something substantial to say about what Obama did right. On one level, people have been talking about that for months—for instance, his success in grass-roots fund-raising. But I don’t think anyone really has a grasp of why this campaign took off the way it did. Going into the race, I think most people around the country knew him for the speech he made at the Democratic convention. Clearly there was something about him that reached a lot of people and that people remembered. During my brief tenure at the UC Berkeley Law School in 2005, I suggested that the dean, Christopher Edley, invite Obama out to do a fundraiser for the school (Edley was one of Obama’s professors at Harvard Law School). The dean responded that Obama was very hard to get; he had been told that Obama was getting 400 or 500 speaking requests a week. How many other freshman senators were getting that kind of attention after five months in office?

The last few decades are seemingly full of charismatic, smart, young Democratic presidential hopefuls who were seen as legitimate contenders and then wound up in the ditch. Some self-destructed: Ted Kennedy and Gary Hart. Some just seemed to evaporate when exposed to the harsh campaign climate (and real opposition): Jerry Brown and Howard Dean. Faced with competition arguably tougher than any of these guys, Obama succeeded. The mechanics of his success so far–the tangibles that go with all the intangibles–that’s what I’d like to hear about.

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A Vote for Newspaper Blogging

Doing a quick check on how soome major papers are handling the breaking news in the Hillary Clinton event (text of her speech, and it’s a damned good one, is here). As of 1:10 p.m. EDT, after the event had been under way for at least a few minutes:

–L.A. Times: Lame and badly edited Associated Press set-up story on the event.

New York Times: Topping a boilerplate piece on the campaign (which includes the novelistic statement, “Mr. Obama stayed away [from the event] because he understood this was her moment”) with fresh developments.

Washington Post: Doing on-the-fly rewrites in much the same style as the Times, but feels fresher.

Chicago Tribune: Main coverage is in the paper’s The Swamp political blog. By far the best of the bunch. I like that they skipped the standard bylined story approach and just went with the blogger. The piece has a much more immediate feel, and you don’t really need the back story.

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Commander in Chief

About a year ago, Garry Wills had some thoughtful things to say about the notion of the president as commander-in-chief and about what that role has evolved and is evolving into. He talked about the militarization of our politics, the way “wartime discipline” has become the norm rather than the exception, and about the glorification of the president as a military leader.

I can’t improve on what Wills said. But I can register alarm at the sudden, crazy veering of Hillary Clinton to inform the world that she and John McCain are commander-in-chief material, while Barack Obama is not.

My friend Pete sent me this quote, which I find in a Baltimore Sun blog:

“I think that since we now know Sen. (John) McCain will be the nominee for the Republican Party, national security will be front and center in this election. We all know that. And I think it’s imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander-in-chief threshold,” the New York senator told reporters crowded into an infant’s bedroom-sized hotel conference room in Washington.

“I believe that I’ve done that. Certainly, Sen. McCain has done that and you’ll have to ask Sen. Obama with respect to his candidacy,” she said.

Sure. As Wills points out, everyone and his sister has to strike the military pose now (even when the effect is comic rather that martial). That part’s unfortunate, but no shock. What seems like lunacy, though, is the embrace of McCain. Yeah, that may help her in her contest with Obama. But apparently she cares nothing about what happens when she or Obama will actually be running against McCain. She’s endorsing him, for crying out loud.

But that’s not the only way in which she’s taking leave of her senses. She’s decided that she has to play act at the job of commander-in-chief. First with the “red phone” ad, and now — as the Sun’s blog describes — by holding what was described as a “cabinet style” press conference in the company of a bunch of military officers who support her. What she’s doing is working to reduce the primary campaign to the president’s military role. Again, this must be aimed solely at Obama, because no one can honestly believe she’ll compare favorably to McCain if that’s the way the campaign is framed.

It’s possible she’s given Obama an opening, though. The president’s military conduct during the last eight years was repudiated in the 2006 election. McCain’s rhetoric about war has become so extreme that, as my brother John pointed out, people are calling him McBush. Clinton is recklessly aligning herself with McCain (an act that, among other things, makes you wonder what, if anything, she really believes about Iraq). After the decade we’ve just gone through, and the prospect that continuing on the same path will not only cost trillions but cripple the armed forces the Bushes, Cheneys, McCains (and now Clintons) profess to love so much, wisdom, restraint and an open mind will look pretty good in the Oval Office. That’s Obama’s argument to make.

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Exit Poll: Undeclared Candidate

CNN on Tuesday night published results of its Democratic exit polling in New Hampshire. In addition to posing the standard demographic questions–showing younger voters tended to vote for Obama, older ones for Clinton, for instance–the pollsters asked the following: If Bill Clinton had been running, who would you have voted for–him or your candidate? (It’s the fourth question listed; the results table doesn’t give the exact wording.)

Overall, the response seems to have been that people would have stuck with their candidates by a large majority: 61 percent said they’d vote for that candidate, 37 percent said they’d vote for Bill Clinton. Of those who said they’d stick with their candidate, 47 percent voted for Obama yesterday and 27 percent chose Hillary Clinton. Of those who said they’d vote for Bill Clinton instead, 58 percent voted for Hillary Clinton yesterday and 24 percent voted for Obama.

In other words, a majority of Hillary Clinton voters in this New Hampshire sample–note all the qualifications there–would vote for her husband instead if given the chance.

How big a majority? That’s a little hard to quantify exactly, since I’m not sure how percentages were rounded up or down and I can’t find a place right now to pose questions to CNN, but let’s try: The reported sample population is 1,955. Assuming every member of the group answered this question, 1,193 people said they’d vote for their candidate instead of Bill Clinton; 723 said they’d vote for Bill over whoever they voted for yesterday; and 39 apparently didn’t answer.

Among the 1,193 voters in the “I like my candidate better than Bill” group, 27 percent, or 322, voted for Hillary Clinton; among the 723 people in the “I like Bill better than whoever” group, 58 percent, or 419, voted for Hillary Clinton. (For comparison: 561 Obama voters said they’d stick with him, 173 said they’d vote for Bill instead.)

If I’ve got those numbers right — and if is the operative word here — 56.5 percent of the Hillary Clinton group said they’d vote for Bill Clinton if he was on the ballot. I find that shocking. Maybe the result is meaningless, a quirk. But maybe it shows that Hillary Clinton’s voters, to some extent, view her as a surrogate for the ex-president (and saying that, I’m shocked again: It flies in the face of one of her main appeals, which is, as Gloria Steinem reminded us yesterday, that she’s a history-making woman). It may also show that the former president is still a powerful draw for Democrats

In any case, I’d love to see the results if the same question were posed in the primaries to come. Go read the poll yourself and tell me whether I’ve got it right.

[Later: MSNBC, which published the same poll, focused on this finding last night. They report the full question as, “If Bill Clinton were eligible to run for a third term and had been on the ballot today, who would you have voted for?”]

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Message

Left on our phone the other night:

“Obama!

“Hey, it’s E____. I had to call you guys and share my happiness about Obama winning at least the first caucus, because we were all sitting there in pain about Gore back in 2000, and finally I have an election that I have a little bit of hope that the person I want may win. Anyway, I just had to say that and I hope you guys have a good night. Bye.”

That was a fun call to get. And E____ and I are in the same camp. Although as I told a John Edwards canvasser, I can’t spell out logically while I’m leaning this way. And after years and years and years of looking for the rationale for my votes and often coming up short, I’ve given myself permission to just go with my instinct on this one.

(One of the best pieces I’ve read about Obama recently came from David Brooks, the New York Times columnist who has played the role of centrist/conservative (the paper recently hired a real conservative for the op-ed page). Brooks argues for Obama on the basis of his personal experience, temperament and intellect:

Moreover, he has a worldview that precedes political positions. Some Americans (Republican or Democrat) believe that the country’s future can only be shaped through a remorseless civil war between the children of light and the children of darkness. Though Tom DeLay couldn’t deliver much for Republicans and Nancy Pelosi, so far, hasn’t been able to deliver much for Democrats, these warriors believe that what’s needed is more partisanship, more toughness and eventual conquest for their side.

But Obama does not ratchet up hostilities; he restrains them. He does not lash out at perceived enemies, but is aloof from them. In the course of this struggle to discover who he is, Obama clearly learned from the strain of pessimistic optimism that stretches back from Martin Luther King Jr. to Abraham Lincoln. This is a worldview that detests anger as a motivating force, that distrusts easy dichotomies between the parties of good and evil, believing instead that the crucial dichotomy runs between the good and bad within each individual.

Obama did not respond to his fatherlessness or his racial predicament with anger and rage, but as questions for investigation, conversation and synthesis. He approaches politics the same way. In her outstanding New Yorker profile, Larissa MacFarquhar notes that Obama does not perceive politics as a series of battles but as a series of systemic problems to be addressed. He pursues liberal ends in gradualist, temperamentally conservative ways.

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