Monday, January 28, 2008

The Better Angels of Our Nature?!?!?!?

Yesterday, Figgins and I heard Senator Ted Kennedy endorse Senator Barack Obama, as his choice for the Democrat Party's 2008 Presidential Nominee. Kennedy did an expert job with what I recognized as an old-style-politics approach to whip the audience into a frenzy. To me, this approach magnified the irony of the current "Change Candidate" exulting in the endorsement of a man who has been in the U.S. Senate since 1962. But, whip them into a frenzy he did. The challenge for Figgins and I, as we listened, was trying to find substance in Kennedy's passion-evoking rhetoric. For us, this reached its peak when Kennedy described Obama by saying, "... he also has an uncommon capacity to appeal to the better angels of our nature." At that, we just cocked our heads and looked at each other. Though neither of us said a word, you could tell we were both thinking, "What the heck does that mean?!"

Since this is Figgins' first time around with a Presidential campaign, I knew we would need to draw on my experience, in order to try to answer that question. As I thought back and as I considered that much of the endorsement event's rhetoric made allusions comparing Obama to JFK, I realized something about this comment did seem familiar. It did remind me of feelings that had been stirred up in me by JFK's Presidential candidacy when I was just a young teenager. Though I probably couldn't have pointed out a single thing I objected to with the Eisenhower administration or with the heir-apparent, Richard Nixon, there was just something excitingly appealing about that handsome young Kennedy, his beautiful young Wife, their idyllic young family and the emotions he aroused with his rhetoric.

Reflecting on the time of JFK's Presidential candidacy ... what that time was like and how I felt then ... was an interesting reverie for me. But, of course, looking back, I couldn't limit my consideration to just that "moment in time". I, also, had to consider what followed that time. In my view, much of what followed that time causes me concern for what could follow the present time. A time when, like those days of "Camelot", we elected a President who's rhetoric was inspiring but, in many significant instances, it lacked substance.

With these things in mind then, I knew it was important for me to respond to this question with advice for Figgins. Advice I'd like to pass along to all of America's youth, who are getting involved in Presidential politics for the first time. Advice that comes from lessons I didn't begin to fully grasp until I was nearly thirty years old. My advice would encourage our youth to be as fully involved as they can be in the Presidential election process and that there is nothing wrong with getting excited about a particular candidate. Likewise, there's nothing wrong with looking to a leader for inspiration ... in fact, the ability to inspire is an excellent leadership quality. But, most importantly, before you commit yourself to a candidate, be sure they have the substance to match. If they inspire you by talking about "change", demand to know in detail "change from what and to what". And when they use rhetoric that makes your pulse race, discipline yourself to ask, "What the heck does that mean?!" and don't rest until you have a crystal clear answer.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Figgins has been confused about some recent incidents in the current Presidential campaign where some candidates have been accused of trying to "play the race card". Thankfully, Figgins was born and raised in a time when race is much less divisive than it was when I was growing up. So, I've been drawing on my experience from that former era to help him understand.

Senator Hillary Clinton's recent remark, indicating that President Lyndon Baines Johnson was more deserving of credit for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been central in this. Although I'm not able to look upon Mrs. Clinton's heart, I told Figgins that I doubted if she had any malicious intent towards Dr. King, in making her comment. However, I went on to say that I do think her intent was self-serving political leverage and it led to a blunder that was harmful to everyone involved, including herself.

I don't often think of Mrs. Clinton and her Husband, former President Bill Clinton, having much in common with me but, in this regard, it struck me that there are four things that we do have in common. (1) We were born in the 1940s, all within the same 14 month period. (2) We were all born and raised in the Midwest/Mid-South. (3) We are all White. (4) We all should remember how differently those who weren't White were treated by the culture we grew up in and how very wrong that was.

If you don't recall what our culture was like in the time prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or you haven't studied it, I recommend that you find a book called Once Upon A Time When We Were Colored, written by Clifton L. Taulbert. Clif was born in the mid 1940s too but he was born in the South, he isn't White and his book does a good job of capturing what that time was like.

I can't imagine anyone living in that time not noticing Dr. King and what was going on with the Civil Rights Movement. I certainly noticed. But, frankly, Dr. King wasn't a hero to me then. However, one day I heard him say, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Those words were like seeds planted in me to bring about a much needed change in my heart. No doubt, those words impacted others differently but Dr. King and those striving with him deserve the credit for the plantings that brought about a much needed change in this nation's heart and I suspect that included the heart of this nation's President at the time, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Its a shame that Senator Clinton would make such a self-serving and harmful comment. However, maybe its good that it happened, if for no other reason than to refresh our memory of how far our country has come since 1964 and how thankful we should be for those, like Dr. King, who were willing to live and in fact, to die to accomplish this. Its, also, a fond reminder to me of a time when my Wife and I got to worship with the flock at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, in Atlanta, where both Dr. King and his Father once served as Senior Pastor. The Bible Study that day was from Romans 8. Probably, the best known part of that Chapter is verse 28 ... "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to [His] purpose."

Thursday, January 3, 2008

It ain't over 'til ... it's Beginning?!

Iowa Caucuses?! Wyoming Caucuses?! New Hampshire Primary?! Now there are some events Figgie and I have had trouble getting our minds around! I don't think we could really understand it without doing something like moving to Iowa and participating in the caucuses directly. Since I moved away from the Midwest 30 years ago and have no desire to return, that's not likely to happen.

Although we don't fully understand these events, we sense something a bit quaint about them and perhaps, somewhat fitting, in approach, for those localities. Otherwise, they seem rather archaic and good examples for our nation's need to revamp our approach to Presidential Elections, if we truly want to have a representative government.

Before getting into the things we'd like to see changed, we should point out that there are some good qualities of the current process that we would like to see retained ... no need to "throw out the baby with the bathwater". One of these qualities is that a Presidential candidate who isn't more wealthy than Solomon or who doesn't already have a national reputation can get a place on the Iowa caucus stage and establish themselves as a credible contender. It reminds us that what Jimmy Stewart portrayed in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is still attainable ... an average, down-to-earth person, doing their level-best to represent their average, down-to-earth fellow citizens.

With that said, though there are some good qualities of the current process that we would like to see retained, there are many aspects that we believe greatly miss the mark, if a representative government is the goal. At the beginning, are the Iowa Caucuses and their impact on the Presidential Election process in other States. The State we live in considered canceling this year's Presidential primary, usually held in May, to avoid the great expense of an event that would be meaningless by the time it was held. So, its been moved up to February 19th and if the political pundits have their way, it may still be a meaningless event. That doesn't seem right for a representative government. Why should fewer than 100,000 Iowa Republicans and fewer than 200,000 Iowa Democrats have such sway over the 300 million of us living in the U.S.?

So, we see the Iowa Caucuses as a flawed beginning to the current process. Certainly, there are many other flaws in the process, sorely needing change. But none is greater than the flawed process at the end ... the Electoral College. To us, there's nothing even quaint about this. Its just archaic. Maybe it made sense for the first generation of U.S. Americans but it just doesn't fit today. We were keenly aware of this during the last Presidential Election, when we lived in Orange County, CA. Many, outside of the immediate area, are surprised to learn that Orange County is the "reddest" county in the nation. At least it was in the last Presidential Election ... that's right, more people, per-capita, in Orange County, voted for President Bush than in any other county in the nation. And yet, not one Elector, representing the State of California in the Electoral College cast a vote for President Bush. If you're saying "So what?!" so far, consider that the population of Orange County is over 3 million. That's a greater population than in 20 States, DC and four U.S possessions. Even if your car is still sporting a Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker and you're pleased to know that the "reddest" county in the nation went unrepresented in the last Presidential Election, you have to admit, that doesn't seem right for a representative government.

So, what do we recommend, as the "flawless alternative?" Frankly, we don't have a complete plan to suggest and if we did, it wouldn't be "flawless" ... none will be. But, we think what we've pointed out here are clear examples of the acute need for change. We see this as an ideal opportunity for the sort of thing we pointed out in our posting entitled Rediscovering America's Strength - i.e. moving from the politics that just pit one candidate against another, based on their differences, to the politics of courageous leaders with the common sense to embrace the synergy of the best of our differing ideas. Unlike the first generation of U.S. Americans, we have the infrastructure in place to support a vastly improved Presidential Election process. The lacking key ingredient is having the political leaders with the courage to step up and promote a different and better process instead of finding ways to utilize the flaws in the current process, as leverage for their special interests.