Archive for June, 2007

Watergate scarred Dick Cheney for life. Sort of like getting a load of birdshot right in the face. All that silly to-do over breaking and entering, bribes, dirty politics, Oval Office lies to cover it up, the dreaded I word, taught the young right-wing politico a hard lesson: Congressional oversight is more trouble than it’s worth. Given the chance, Cheney would take care of that.

His notion of good government is the unitary executive. No one interferes with the White House. The president is not the third leg on the table of government–he’s the whole table. What he decides to do and how he does it are nobody’s business.

In 2001, when Cheney convened a meeting of his new “energy task force” to write comprehensive energy policy for the nation, word leaked out that the task force was comprised of his buddies in the oil industry and their lobbyists. Like bringing in the wolves to guard the henhouse. When demands were made by the media and members of Congress that these lupine architects of energy policy be identified, Cheney balked. Neither Congress nor the public had any right to know a thing about either the policy or who engineered it. He claimed executive privilege. He was, after all, the VP — a bona fide member of the executive branch. That gave him the right to wield the big executive shield. National security, ya know.

Cheney liked his executive privilege as long as it protected him from answering to Congress and the public. Now he’s not so crazy about it. Not the privilege part. It’s the executive branch part that’s got him stewing.

By presidential order, the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office is responsible for keeping track of the nation’s secrets, ensuring they are properly protected. This small agency routinely inspects government offices, safely archives secret information for posterity, requires officials in the executive branch to report data on the number of documents classified and declassified. Even the National Security Council cooperates with the inspections, provides all necessary data. So did Cheney’s office until 2003, when he suddenly refused to go on making nice with the ISOO. No more data provided, no more routine inspections. It was a touchy situation for the Veep then, with Libby and other aides under criminal investigation for leaking classified information. You can’t have just anybody snooping around at a time like that. Cheney has since attempted to abolish the pesky ISOO altogether.

His rationale? His office, he now contends, is “not an entity within the executive branch.” Since he holds another job–the tie-breaking vote in the Senate (and we all know how much time that takes)–he insists his legislative responsibilities exempt his office from routine executive branch oversight. What does this mean?   That Dick Cheney and his staff are accountable to no one.

He’s neither fish nor fowl. He’s neither legislative nor executive. Or he’s both. Or he’s something else. What is something else? What it looks like is a “dark alley presidency.” The enforcer. The shadow power behind a lazy, intellectually challenged president. And everyone knows about dark alleys. It’s where you get beaten senseless and robbed. It’s where you get mugged. No light, no law. No rules apply. The bad guy with the big gun calls the shots.

Somebody needs to call the cops. The ones who wield the I word cudgel.


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Several weeks ago, I criticized Obama’s support of liquid-to-coal technology as an indication that he might not take climate change as seriously as he should. I wasn’t alone – my peers at itsgettinghotinhere.org put on the pressure, and a petition from the U.S. Climate Energy Council and the U.S. Climate Action Network was widely circulated. To the pleasant surprise of many, Obama issued a statement saying that he would only support liquid-to-coal if it adhered to strict environmental standards. Because the technology isn’t even close to being able to abide by these standards, this statement amounts to a retraction of his original position.

This move is a small victory for climate advocates, and the discussion it sparked is at least as interesting as the move itself. Has Obama gone far enough on climate issues? Has climate change become “the abortion issue” for the young left? What are the ethics of single-issue voting? Or the ethics of supporting a candidate who favors increased carbon emissions, for that matter? Are we pushing candidates to embrace environmental sustainability at the cost of economic and social sustainability?


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In the past week, I’ve had one question on my mind: how would Jesus vote? 

That is the question theologian Linda Seger asks in her recent book Jesus Rode a Donkey: Why Republicans Don’t Have the Corner on Christ. Seger wonders, if Jesus were alive today, would he feed the poor or cut free school lunch programs? Would he comfort the old and infirm or eliminate Social Security? Would he turn the other cheek or invade Iraq 

Now, right up front, let me get a few things out of the way. I don’t think Jesus would be a Republican or a Democrat if he were living in America today. And personally, I think it is essentially pointless and somewhat dangerous to wade into the murky territory of such historical (and spiritual) speculation – especially when taking a figure like Jesus under consideration. Before long, such an exercise can reduce Jesus to one of our own ridiculous cultural caricatures; he either ends up driving to the abortion clinic in his hybrid-vehicle or patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border fresh from a meeting of the local N.R.A. Frankly, it’s hard to picture him doing either of those things. 

All that said, given the incredible role Jesus plays in American culture – and in American politics especially – it is perhaps useful to reconsider what Jesus stood for in his own time and look for ways to promote those same issues in our present time. How can our government make policy that prioritizes the poor in the same way Jesus did? How can his concern for peace and justice inform our foreign policy and war on terror? How can his model of compassion and tolerance guide us within our own borders as we seek to work together as Republicans, Democrats, and Independents? Reexamining these questions with renewed senses of sobriety, humility, and objectivity might benefit our society in tremendous ways. 

And in order to do that, there is a major misperception that we must first confront: Jesus is not the unofficial mascot of the GOP.  

Over the course of the past three decades, a sort of political transitive property of equality has been written in America. Remember the transitive property of equality? If A = B and B = C, then A = C. Well, that same mentality has allowed for the same logic in American society. Whereas, if Jesus is represented in America by the Religious Right, and the Religious Right is represented in government by Republicans, then Jesus is represented by Republicans. That simply is not so. And no one has done more to disprove this logic than George W. Bush, whose policies have rewarded the wealthy, ignored the poor, and created an entire population of widows and orphans both in the U.S. and Iraq. It’s hard to look at the record of the Bush administration and find examples of it doing unto others as it would have done unto it. 

The fact is we need to reintroduce the logic of the golden rule into our politics. The idea that we have a stake in one another is not new. It is a foundational truth that has guided almost all religions and humanistic philosophies in all ages. In fact, the foundational notions of our own democracy are similarly guided by this idea of an ethics of reciprocity, where individual rights and equality are valued first and foremost. 

The fact that this proven truth guides Barack Obama in his campaign for the presidency is perhaps the main reason I believe in him so much. Others in the race have impressive records and intriguing positions, but none has so boldly and consistently said that we must rediscover this foundational ethic in our own national interest.  

Obama has said, “what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart and… if enough people believe in the truth of the proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done.” 

This weekend, Obama stated in plain terms before a national meeting of the United Church of Christ, “Somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and faith started being used to drive us apart.” He continued, “Faith got hijacked partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, all too eager to exploit what divides us.” 

Obama is right. Without question, faith has been hijacked in America. And we must find a way to use faith – all faiths – for unity, not division.  

But of course, this is a campaign of hope. This is a movement of national renewal. And I believe it is working. After reading Obama’s remarks, I visited the website of Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcast Network. I expected to find a firm rebuttal and familiar conservative rhetoric. Instead I found a column by CBN Correspondent David Brody who, to my surprise, wrote: 

For Obama to stand up and talk about how Jesus changed his life, my friends that takes guts. You may disagree with everything he’s about, you may disagree with his policy goals but as Christians, shouldn’t we like it when someone talks about Christ being the missing ingredient in his life?… To me though, the criticism of the religious right was a small part of the speech. I saw it more as an uplifting speech that can bring people of faith together. For example, Obama talked about how God SHOULD NOT be removed from the public square…Here’s what it comes down to. Obama’s view of his faith calls for social justice. Moral issues like immigration, minimum wage, healthcare, etc are all part of that equation…Social conservatives see the pressing moral issues as abortion, gay marriage, etc. So how can you bring both sides together? Maybe you can’t. But if religious conservatives are willing to engage in some of these other ‘moral issues’ that Obama talks about, then Obama and the progressives might also need to be willing to engage on the abortion and gay marriage issue. For example, nobody expects Obama to all of a sudden become pro-life, but will he be able to move towards the middle on issues like parental notification or a congressional bill that warns would be mothers that their fetus will feel pain if aborted after 20 weeks? At the end of the day, Obama’s most important line didn’t have to do with any issue. It had to do with Jesus…And as Christians, that’s something we can all agree on.” 

That is tremendous – to read such fond words about a liberal Democrat written by a correspondent of CBN. That is the power of Obama’s campaign, and that is a testament to his leadership and unique vision. It makes me feel that this movement Obama has started is real and is working. It makes me anticipate the potential and promise of this campaign.  It is national renewal already underway. It is the golden rule in action. It is faith uniting us, not dividing us.

It may be hard to know how Jesus would vote today, but I think it’s safe to believe he would stand for unity such as this.

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Fascinating. It’s been that kind of week. The Clinton-Punjab/Obama Memo provoked more than the press. It provoked tempers, panic, a flurry of emails about who was to blame and what to do about it. Finally, this message went out: “Wait a minute–everybody take a deep breath here…” and the internet chatter turned to our methods of communicating wisely in general and the Clinton/Obama memo flap in particular.

So. There’s been a lot of deep breathing going on. I wrote a friend/Obama supporter that it reminded me of nothing so much as LaMaze classes. Prepared Political Childbirth. Keep your eyes on the focal point, take a cleansing breath and don’t fight the contraction. That only makes it worse.

Take a deep breath is almost always the best advice. This time was no exception.

Clearly some folks on the Obama campaign staff were hyperventillating. Their memo was, at best, a clumsy effort and the thing backfired. Badly. 

One of the smartest Obama supporters I know had this to say about it: “What’s really disappointing is that the topic of outsourcing (how, when, where, why) is now buried under the question of presentation. It’s hard to focus on the substantive issues when the spotlight is on the style (or lack thereof) of a candidate’s staff.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. The serious issue of outsourcing American jobs gets lost in a muddle of poorly chosen or unclear rhetoric. What should have been sharp analysis based on the issue involved became a perceived attack on the person involved. Worse, lack of clarity gave rise to accusations of racism, xenophobia and smear tactics. Nothing could be further from the truth about this candidate or his campaign.

That’s politics. Happens every day. It shouldn’t be such a big deal–except that it is. I watched Chris Cillizza opine on the Clinton/Obama memo this week. I hated hearing what he said because it doesn’t seem fair that this campaign can be wounded by a single ill-considered incident. But, fair or not, Cillizza had a point: When a candidate chooses to run a “different kind of campaign”, when the bar is set at our being “above the fray” of the politics-as-usual rabble, then he–and all of us involved–are held to a higher standard of behavior than that of any other campaign.

Years ago Ronald Reagan set the Republican standard with his “Golden Rule” for the Right. You don’t poison your own pond. It’s worked well for them. Our getting juiced and tainting our progressive movement with knee-jerk, taunting language or going after John Edwards’ hair or Hillary’s personality or any other liberal candidate’s foibles as we perceive them is self-destructive. That kind of  angry or careless “She’s/he’s the enemy!” approach is damaging to the quest for change. And we all agree, no matter which Democrat we support, that change is the imperative. We don’t get there using the same old tactics. We, on the Left, are not the enemy. The enemy of positive change is in the White House, on the Right. 

Let’s not beat ourselves. It’s about the issues. We go after the differences on those issues. We stress, again and again, the postitives of our candidate’s philosophy of governance: the common good, civil discourse, consensus, bridging the great divide between the haves and the have-nots–both here and abroad. We speak to his eloquence. His intellect. His authenticity. His ability to communicate, to a world grown intolerant of and fearful of this Aggressive America, that we are better than this. We need to rekindle the flames of a national conscience. We had one once. What we need in memo form are Obama’s policies and his vision for change.

And this point needs to be made to both the press and the public: You can’t have it both ways here, folks. You can’t criticize Barack Obama, post-debates, for his “weakness” and an implied “inability to lead” when he doesn’t go for the jugular, draw blood attacking other candidates for the nomination–then go after him with a vengeance if/when either he or his staff appears to be on the attack. It’s hypocritical and that dog won’t hunt.

As for the rest of us, let’s do a little of that deep breathing and get back to work. As my Obama supporter friend said to me, “Unless perfection is the new cut-off point, let’s move on.” She’s one smart cookie–and she’s seldom short of breath.

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Cross-posted at Future Majority.

This blog is drawn from some writing I have in the mix for an upcoming article and was also prompted by a post at Future Majority this past week titled Consensus, Millennial Politics, and the Common Good.

The author Bergerc84 kicked things off with the following line:


“Peter Levine blogged about consensus today, and it got me thinking about Millennials, their affinity for collaboration, and how this impacts the current political environment.”

His thoughts became my muse as well. Will a new generation that is prone to collaboration bring an end to decades of hostile culture wars, bitter partisanship, and relentless political gridlock? Will we too spend the vast majority of our political energy engaging in back-and-forth diatribes over the hot-button issues of abortion, gay marriage, gun control, and global warming? Or will our generation finally rise above, forge a working consensus, and move our nation forward?


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Disposable diapers, I’ve whined for years, have ruined this country.

I was joking. Sort of. I was referring, in the main, to an ever-accelerating divorce rate. But those diapers remain an issue.

My first child was born in 1970. Pampers were fairly new. Huggies and “wipes” hadn’t even come along yet. The whole idea of disposable diapers was as liberating to young mothers as any notion of overthrowing some ham-fisted tyrant. Imagine how we felt: The baby poops and in three easy steps you’re done with the doo-doo. Take off the Pampers, wipe the kid’s butt and toss the whole nasty wad in the trash. Not the baby, of course. You kept him, freshly diapered, smelling like sunshine and Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder…and you went right back to reading your lusty Harlequin Romance. Ah-h-h. The allure of disposability had never been so evident, so attractive.

Everyone wanted it, that disposability factor. I still believe the toss-it-when-soiled mindset impacted badly on marriage. After Pampers we knew if something got stinky we could always throw it out and get a freah one. But the whole thing snowballed. The issue broadened in scope.

Being a Born Again Liberal in 1970 meant that, while I coveted both disposability and freedom from responsibility, I felt guilty about it. Liberals, by nature, feel guilty about everything. Something about wrapping my baby in plastic all the time–then adding that plastic to the chemical stew at the local landfill–bothered me. this meant I had to actually soend a little time thinking things through. I had to find a “third way” or die. So I bought four dozen cloth diapers for my son. I used cloth during the day, Pampers at night. The compromise eased my guilt. A good thing. And, ever the fiscal conservative, I saved money. But that meant daytime diapering wasn’t of the three-easy-steps-and-you’re-done variety. Tough going.

I did, however, learn something.

If you want that baby badly enough, sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. Cloth diapers clogged with baby-poop have to be cleaned up before you toss them on the laundry pile and get on with your day. This means you’re up to your elbows in the toilet. Scraping the ka-ka, flushing, scraping again, rubbing, scrubbing, wringing and rinsing again. For as long as it takes. And you can’t let go of that diaper. No way. No matter how slimy it is or how bad it smells. If you do it’ll go down the toilet, clog up your pipes, stink up your whole house and get you a plumbing bill you hadn’t counted on and can’t afford to pay.

What does all this have to do with Iraq? With war? We invaded Iraq with a Pampers, Huggies and Baby Wipes War Plan. Three quick steps, they told us, and we’d be out of there. Yank Saddam, wipe and toss. The baby would be clean and happy and it would belong to us. Easy. (more…)

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I just wanted to leave a quick note for the online community here at Barack the Youth Vote. Due to a sudden death in my family yesterday, I will not be able to make a new post today. In the days to come, I will be traveling to be with family for the funeral services and suspect I will not be posting my regular op-ed in the next week.  

I hope you all were able to take part in the Walk for Change this weekend, and I am anxious to read about your experiences. I look forward to posting again as soon as possible.      

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