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Archive for September, 2007

Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it better. Dirty Dancing and Strictly Ballroom pale in comparison.

The American GOP Forum at Morgan State in Baltimore. A chance for Republican presidential wannabes to strut their stuff for a largely African American audience in attendance — and with, maybe, hundreds of thousands more courtesy of PBS, who televised the debate. Tavis Smiley moderating. Who’da thunk it? What self-respecting conservative president-in-waiting would pass up such an opportunity to make his case?

Well, the four top tier Repubs took a pass. McCain, Romney, Giuliani, Thompson, all of ’em. Seems they thought “the audience might be hostile and unresponsive.”

Big mistake.

The event organizers deserve an Emmy for turning the snub to “Best Dramatic Effect in Reality TV.”  The six “second tier & lower” candidates, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter and Alan Keyes took their places at their six slick, see-through podia. You could see every inch of ’em. Interspersed on stage, for all the world to see every minute of the debate, were the four empty podia of the front runners. A constant reminder of who cared enough to show up — and who didn’t.

I was mesmerized. For a crusty old Liberal like me, the visual message on that stage was mind-blowing. Then Tavis Smiley elevated the debate format to stellar heights. The first question? He asked each of the candidates to address the absence of the Big Four. If I’d had a bottle of champagne handy, I’d have popped the cork right then. There’s no way out of this, I thought.

I was wrong.

Huckabee was first to respond and was inclusive — and utterly brilliant. “I’m embarrassed,” he said. “I want to be president of the United States, not president of the Republican Party…” He was clearly incensed at the shameful behavior of his fellow GOP candidates and made no bones about it. His take no prisoners attitude, delivered with all the sincerity and zeal of the Baptist preacher he is, had me on my feet.

While the others also shook their collective heads in disapproval and spoke to it, none of them came across with the same depth of feeling Huckabee evidenced. Besides,  he was first and had no time to gather his thoughts. Nor did he have a response to model his own after; he had to wing it and he did. Beautifully.

It’s not easy for a committed white guy who’s anti-social programs for the needy (If we’d all just be responsible for ourselves, keep Dubya’s tax breaks for the wealthy,  privatize Social Security and let big business do it’s thing without a lot of silly regulations, everybody would be just fine…) to relate to a room full of minorities. Most of the candidates proved that to be true.

When the question of what legacy each of them might leave the African American community if they were elected, the answers were revealing. Brownback waxed eloquent about his effort, already underway, to see an African American museum constructed in D.C. — and he would be the president who, at long last, officially apologized for slavery and segregation. Duncan Hunter jumped in with a notion of doing away with pornography, although he failed to make celar why this was an urgent African American issue. He extolled “less regulations and less taxes” as a shiny new legacy for Black America. Alan Keyes said he did not believe there actually is “this deep divide in this nation” and seemed to feel that a same-sex marriage moral compass and “faith” in schools would pretty much do the legacy trick.

It was Huckabee, again, who hit the high point: Access to decent housing, a justice system that’s not weighted against African Americans. I was on my feet again. Whoo-hoo! Housing! All that social justice and justice justice! Honey, I was ready to pull the lever. Or touch the screen. Or lick the #2 lead and put a big old X in the box next to his name.

But something went wrong for me when the subject of Darfur was raised and Huckabee said we didn’t need to be tinkering with genocide there until we dealt with the genocide here–abortion. Scratch the benevolent surface and something’s not quite what it appears to be.

Mike Huckabee may prove to be a real threat to the top tier Repubs. He actually is the “compassionate conservative” the GOP touted so loud and proud back in 2000. He preaches love and he means it, all that “love” stuff. Sincerity is not his problem. He’s Baptist. He can prance and preach, wrap himself in the mantle of Christian love, open his arms wide and hug us right into a born-again stupor.

But he’s that kind of Baptist. Therein lies the flub: A singular religious perspective defining public policy, impacting the law, packing the Supreme Court. That kind of love, no matter how well-intended, will narrow the moral landscape and priorities to same-sex romanticism, save-the babies, preach the biblical version of world history and science in the classroom…

And ignore world poverty, illiteracy, hopelessness, rage and genocide as lesser problems (after all, we want to get to heaven, here) and deny healthcare to all those babies we’re supposed to be saving and send them off to Iraq to fight in the endless bloody occupation/holy war against (t)errorism — because, under GOP management, we’ll still be over there fighting when the next generation is cannon-fodder-aged.

This man is not a change in direction. He’s the same old social sins agenda in a spiffy new outfit. With a cross.

The religious right could well rally ’round this fella. God help us.

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I am a life-long Southerner. My family, branches both here in South Carolina and in Virginia, were plantation owners; cotton and tobacco growers who bought and sold people, broke families and bodies and spirits for profit. I was raised by genteel racists who still claimed “Our darkies did not want to be free. They depended on us to take care of them. Why, we saved them from the torment of everlasting hellfire when we brought them over here and gave them to Jesus and they knew it! They’d been nothing but heathens, living like monkeys over there in Africa, practially swinging from trees…”

I’m not proud of my heritage. My children were grown, well into their twenties before I ever told them the truth about their ancestors. I have pictures of the old homes in Upstate South Carolina and on the James River in Virginia. The homes we lost in the “War of Northern Aggression.” In the fifties and sixties, when I was growing up, the Civil War was still being fought down here. I lived in the middle of that battle, that bitter war of words against the Yankees and what they’d done to us, what they’d taken from us. I lived the Great American Apartheid. Fear and hatred, burning crosses, lynchings. The noose was a terrible symbol of the dark soul of the South.

I had hoped we’d outgrown all that. Apparently, some of us have not. (more…)

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Barack Obama says it best: There are no good options in Iraq, only bad ones and worse ones.

Then there’s the worst one. The Decider-in-Chief laid it on the line for us last night.  We’ve gone from Operation Enduring Freedom to Operation Enduring Bleed’em. A stay-the-course “enduring relationship with our ally” while they fight off Al Qaeda — those really bad guys who want to bring down Iraq’s duly elected government.  Iraqi leaders, he tells us, want us to stay. They want this enduring relationship to go on and on and on. Dubya didn’t say how enduring this occupation is going to be. Unless we count on the reference he made to the next president taking over as Commander-in-Chief of the 130,000 troops on the ground come January 2009.

BUT. General Petraeus says we can begin bringing our troops home. It’s the drawdown at last. We’re all on the same page now. Angry Democrats in Congress, an even angrier American public and those skittish Republicans on the Hill, we can all say we’re friends again because George W. Bush says so. He’s bringing over 5,000 troops home by Christmas! The fact that about half of them were already scheduled to leave Iraq doesn’t mean a thing. After all, he didn’t extend their tours. He’s decided things are going so well in Iraq that another 20,000 or so troops will come home by next summer! The way he figures it, we’ll have about 30,000 fewer troops on the ground before you can say “This isn’t a drawdown, Mr. President! This is the end of your surge —  and the Army told you  they cannot maintain it past March anyway! Don’t feed us a mouthful of crap and call it caviar!”

All we’re going to need, he says, to buy the hardworking Iraqi government a little more time and breathing room so they can finally get it right, is the same troop level we had nine months ago. Before the surge.  And that government deserves all the time we’ll give ’em. Sure, they’ve failed to meet most of the Bush benchmarks; sure, they took the entire month of August off for a collective vacation from all that exhausting commitment to concilliation, benchmark-meeting and democracy stuff. Sure, American troops on the ground (without a vacation in sight) bought that recreational month of August with their own blood. But, hey, the surge is working and our troops are coming home! Eventually. (more…)

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Shame you can’t have a 4:20 commercial…

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So. It’s official. After a protracted lackluster start-up leaves the Right yawning through primary season, a frustrated GOP offers up the Grand Ole Poseur. The Great White Hope. The near-Ronald Reagan hits the campaign trail.

Actor/lawyer/former Tennessee Senator Fred Dalton Thompson is off and running. In it to win it. The collective conservative sigh of relief was explosive enough to alter the course of the jet stream; surely there’s nothing but fair weather and smooth sailing ahead. This guy has it all. Experience on the Hill — just enough, not too much. Name recognition to die for, a face everyone knows and trusts. We’ve seen him in action and we’re impressed. He’s served us well as the serious, thoughtful sage DA Arthur Branch on NBC’s Law and Order. He dispensed golden nuggets of legal wisdom every week for several years, never got flustered, seldom lost a case that really mattered. And every Law and Order crisis was neatly resolved in under sixty minutes. No lie. Watch the re-runs. You’ve got to believe in a guy who can do all that. America loves its bigger-than-life heroes and this fella filled the screen. Imagine what he could do in the Oval Office.

Not only has he got star quality, he’s a bona fide regular guy. He wears blue jeans, tools around in a red pickup truck. He drove that old truck all over Tennessee in his ’93 run for the Senate. Folks ate it up like a platter of Memphis barbecue. Most never suspected the truck was pre-positioned a mile or so away from Ole Fred’s stumping grounds; seems a luxury car or limo delivered candidate Thompson to the big, red truck and he took it from there. The long, tall, plain talkin’ everyman arrived in red, white and blue average American style. It’s all about image. You have to look the part to play the role.

He’s an outsider, too. There’s no tacky “Washington Insider” tattoo on this good old boy’s forehead. Serving a term or two in the U.S. Senate does not make a man (or woman) one of those tainted insider types. No way. And that’s a fact.

But there’s more to the life and times of Fred Dalton Thompson than stints as a beloved TV DA or another Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style pol. He’s got a long history — 20 years or so — as a living, breathing lobbyist in D.C. and he played that role to the hilt.

One of his clients in 1982 was the Tennessee Savings and Loan League. On their behalf, Thompson lobbied for a bill to deregulate the S&L industry. The result? The final version of Thompson’s pet bill is widely credited with laying the groundwork for the risky financial ventures, fraud and mismanagement that ended with the S&L collapse of the late ’80s. Regular folks lost money and U.S. taxpayers shelled out around $150 billion for the bail-out. Fred? He got paid.

He lobbied for Equitas, a British reinsurance company handling billions of dollars of asbestos claims for Lloyd’s of London. What profit-savvy insurer wants to face paying full price for all those pesky asbestos victims? Equitas paid Thompson about $760,000 between 2004-2006 for his handiwork on their behalf. And the list goes on. This outsider spent plenty of time and energy peddling influence.

A spokesman for Thompson explains it this way: “Many of the candidates from both parties have been lobbyists or have been lobbied at one point or another in their careers. It is an honorable endeavor that goes back to the beginnings of this republic.”

That point of view makes it all better. My kids once had a penchant for the same “But Mo-omeverybody else is doing it!” argument. I didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now.

Still, they tell us, he’s untainted. He’s a different breed altogether: The new, improved outsider-insider. He’s just like all of us. Except that the K Street gang — who’ve bought our government wholesale, kept the costs of gas and oil, health insurance and prescription drugs, staggeringly high or wholly unaffordable for too many of us — rightfully rejoices at a potential Thompson presidency. After all, he might say he’s one of us, he might look like one of us, but he’s one of them.

He’ll only dance his way into the White House if we let him. Maybe we’re smarter than the GOP thinks we are. To quote a very smart Illinois voter about the Thompson campaign:  “What they’re doing is like putting lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig — and putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t mean you have to take it to the prom.”

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