Archive for September, 2008

‘I’ve Been Meaning To Apologize …’

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Woke this morning to Cokie Roberts on NPR, saying that in voter’s eyes, Obama’s debate performance did for him what Reagan’s did for him in 1980: it made voters comfortable with him. Most of us, she said, want to throw the bums out (as we did with Carter in 1980). When they saw Obama more than hold his own on stage with McCain, many felt convinced, perhaps for the first time, that they could vote for him.

As I reported after the NJDC conference, that was exactly what Obama was hoping for. If that’s the narrative that takes hold now, it’s a very good thing.

Also, the Akron Beacon Journal had a front page article this morning (“Palin Gifts, Zoning Help Listed; What she got as mayor contrast to stump claim”) detailing how Palin was a walking, talking conflict of interest as mayor of Wasilla. (You can read it here.) Here’s the nut:

Though Sarah Palin depicts herself as a pit bull fighting good-old-boy politics, in her years as mayor she and her friends received special benefits more typical of small-town politics as usual, an Associated Press investigation shows.

 

When Palin needed to sell her house during her last year as Wasilla mayor, she got the city to sign off on a special zoning exception – and did so without keeping a promise to remove a potential fire hazard.

 

She gladly accepted gifts from merchants: A free “awesome facial” she raved about in a thank-you note to a spa. The “absolutely gorgeous flowers” she received from a welding supply store. Even fresh salmon to take home.

Still, I find myself nervous. In the NY Times today, Kristol argues (“How McCain Wins“) that Obama signaling out McCain for not mentioning the words “middle class” during the debate makes a Rev. Wright ad fair game. The McCain A-Team is parachuting in to Sarah Palin’s debate prep operation, to help turn her back into the straight-talking conservative firebrand that America fell in love with at the GOP Convention. There’s a narrative taking hold that she’s about to be “released.” I’m worried she’ll out-perform what surely must be historic low expectations, mainly by swiping at Obama, and that Biden won’t have an effective retort.

Oh, and I’m worried about a 600-point stock market plunge.

Frankly, I’m shocked that the House failed to pass the bailout bill. A Congressional source told me this afternoon that John Boehner, the House minority leader, had promised 100 GOP votes supporting the bill. In the end, they mustered only 66 — ensuring its defeat. And Wall Street mayhem.

Don’t be fooled. Wall Street mayhem means Main Street pain and suffering, all across the country today.

Um … thank god John McCain was there to help?

But this is my last post of the Jewish year. And so, with only a few hours until sunset, Erev Rosh Hashanah, I wanted to end on a slightly different note.

In the midst of all this political and financial turbulence, I received an email today from a friend who grew up in Ohio, but now lives out West. While in town recently, he’d seen a copy of a local newsletter I’d helped put out, which included an article about a Canton women he knew from his childhood. He explained all of this in his email to me, and then wrote:

[She] has a brother … who, about 38 years ago, was waiting for me to walk home with him from our shul in Canton after a Shabbat kiddush.  I completely forgot about him that day and I imagine that my standing him up caused him to wait for a long time due to my absence of mind.  I’ve been meaning to apologize for all this time and the serendipity of seeing this article, combined with this being Elul, makes me want to make this the year to make that apology. Could you find out her email address so I can ask her for [his] email and/or phone number?

When I read this, everything else — all the craziness of this political moment, all the uncertainty I feel about this election campaign, all the fear that comes with living in these particular times — dropped away.

Somewhere, in that email, exists the kernel of everything that is right with the world, even now. Somewhere, in those lines, is evidence of the rarest kind of compassion and caring — one person for another, even if they don’t know them that well — that can lodge in the heart and stick there, four decades on.

At the end of the day, at the end of a year, isn’t that what all of this is about?

L’Shanah Tova Tikatevu. Wishing you all a happy, healthy and sweet New Year.

My Obama Minute: John Boccieri

Monday, September 29th, 2008

I made a small donation this afternoon to John Boccieri, who is running for Congress in Ohio’s 16th District. It’s literally a once in a lifetime chance to flip a swing district, from Republican to Democratic. Republican Ralph Regula, who is retiring, was first elected to the seat in 1972. Some say the district is a perfect microcosm of America — if Boccieri wins it, Obama’s likely to win Ohio, and the White House.

Boccieri is an Iraq war vet. And — I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him — he’s one of the nicest, most hamish, would-be-office holders I can imagine.

I can’t emphasize enough how crucial it is to elect Boccieri.

If you go to his Web site, www.johnforcongress.com, you can vote for him in the 21st Century Democrats online contest. He’s one of the final six. And it takes less than a minute.

McCain and the Missile Crisis

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Last week, we had George Will, the conscience of conservatism, coming out and all but endorsing Obama, noting that his experience gap is not nearly as worrying as McCain’s “dismaying temperament.” (He called McCain the “flustered rookie” — I blogged on it here.)

This morning, we have Nicholas Kristof, one of the most even-handed, respected columnists we have, taking this critique of McCain one step further (“Impulsive, Impetuous, Impatient“), pointing out that if elected, McCain would be “more Bushian in foreign policy than even Mr. Bush is now.” McCain has become steadily more of a cowboy neocon, Kristof writes, “prone to solving problems with stealth bombers rather than United Nations resolutions.”

Suppose John McCain had been in the White House in October 1962, facing one of the great tests of the modern presidency. If so, we might remember that period not as “the Cuban missile crisis” but as “World War III.”

As Mr. McCain demonstrated in Friday evening’s debate, he is a serious foreign policy thinker who has traveled widely, and he certainly showed vision and bipartisanship in helping to repair relations with Vietnam. But it’s equally clear that in recent years Mr. McCain has become impish cubed — impulsive, impetuous and impatient — and those are perilous qualities in a commander in chief.

Kristof then goes on to talk about McCain’s dangerous positions regarding Iran:

If Iran continues to enrich uranium he would feel obliged to launch airstrikes. And while Mr. McCain understands the lack of any effective military solution (we don’t even know exactly what to hit), he can sound cavalier about a new war.

About North Korea:

A McCain administration would thus apparently mean no more diplomatic track with North Korea. The upshot would be North Korea’s restarting its nuclear weapon assembly line. In similar circumstances in 1994, Mr. McCain raised the prospect of military strikes on North Korea and suggested that war might be inevitable (instead, President Clinton stopped plutonium production with a negotiated deal).

And about Russia:

Russia underscores Mr. McCain’s penchant for risk-taking, theatrics and fulmination. Most striking, he wants to kick Russia out of the Group of 8.

Kristof concludes:

In Friday’s debate, Mr. McCain was on his best behavior. But he did reiterate his suspicion of diplomacy with our enemies, and he has often shown that his instinct in a confrontation (whether with a colleague or a country) is the opposite of John Kennedy’s in the Cuban missile crisis; Mr. McCain responds to challenges by seeking to escalate, to fight.

That’s essentially where his column ends. When I read it, I thought immediately of a trip I took a few years back to the JFK Library and Museum in Boston. There was a striking exhibit there at the time, which illustrated just how Kennedy’s cool, measured response to Khrushchev’s escalations quite literally saved the world from nuclear war.

To quickly recap the history: In October, 1962, a U.S. spy plane detected evidence that the Soviets were building missiles in Cuba. Kennedy authorized a naval quarantine around Cuba, to prevent Soviet weapons from reaching the island. Khrushchev deemed the quarantine an “act of war,” and instructed his ships to ignore it. The U.S. went to DEFCON 2, for the only time in our history.

On Oct. 26, with a stalemate at hand, Khrushchev sent Kennedy a long, overwrought, emotional telegram. I went to the State Department online archives, so I could re-read it. (You can find the correspondence here.) The telegram is 2,760 words, thereabouts. Reading it is nearly impossible. It’s at times meandering, at times threatening, at times barely coherent.

Here, though, are the most relevant three paragraphs:

Let us therefore show statesmanlike wisdom. I propose: We, for our part, will declare that our ships, bound for Cuba, will not carry any kind of armaments. You would declare that the United States will not invade Cuba with its forces and will not support any sort of forces which might intend to carry out an invasion of Cuba. Then the necessity for the presence of our military specialists in Cuba would disappear.

Mr. President, I appeal to you to weigh well what the aggressive, piratical actions, which you have declared the USA intends to carry out in international waters, would lead to. You yourself know that any sensible man simply cannot agree with this, cannot recognize your right to such actions.

If you did this as the first step towards the unleashing of war, well then, it is evident that nothing else is left to us but to accept this challenge of yours. If, however, you have not lost your self-control and sensibly conceive what this might lead to, then, Mr. President, we and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose.

Before Kennedy could respond, Khrushchev sent another missive, continuing his rant, and changing the terms he had offered:

We are willing to remove from Cuba the means which you regard as offensive. We are willing to carry this out and to make this pledge in the United Nations. Your representatives will make a declaration to the effect that the United States, for its part, considering the uneasiness and anxiety of the Soviet State, will remove its analogous means from Turkey.

Essentially, Khrushchev, in increasingly emotional, erratic language, was threatening the U.S. with nuclear war if it did not take a series of steps, including removal of its missiles from Turkey, a NATO ally.

Pause for a moment, and imagine how our two presidential candidates might handle this situation today? Would you rather have McCain, with his finger — and his temperament (impulsive, impetuous, impatient) — on the proverbial button? Or Obama? Which, of the two, is the riskier choice?

Here’s what Kennedy did. He ignored the second telegram. He ignored Khrushchev’s sabre-rattling. He ignored the demand that the U.S. remove its missiles in Turkey. He even ignored the fact that the Soviets had shot down a U.S. spy plane over Cuba that same day. He wrote back to Khrushchev as if the terms of the first letter were still on the table:

Dear Mr. Chairman: I have read your letter of October 26th/1/ with great care and welcomed the statement of your desire to seek a prompt solution to the problem. The first thing that needs to be done, however, is for work to cease on offensive missile bases in Cuba and for all weapons systems in Cuba capable of offensive use to be rendered inoperable, under effective United Nations arrangements.

Assuming this is done promptly, I have given my representatives in New York instructions that will permit them to work out this weekend–in cooperation with the Acting Secretary General and your representative–an arrangement for a permanent solution to the Cuban problem along the lines suggested in your letter of October 26th. As I read your letter, the key elements of your proposals–which seem generally acceptable as I understand them–are as follows:

1) You would agree to remove these weapons systems from Cuba under appropriate United Nations observation and supervision; and undertake, with suitable safeguards, to halt the further introduction of such weapons systems into Cuba.

2) We, on our part, would agree–upon the establishment of adequate arrangements through the United Nations to ensure the carrying out and continuation of these commitments–(a) to remove promptly the quarantine measures now in effect and (b) to give assurances against an invasion of Cuba. I am confident that other nations of the Western Hemisphere would be prepared to do likewise.

This letter was released to the press. Then, through back-channels, Kennedy continued negotiating — eventually agreeing, in a secret deal, to remove the U.S. weapons from Turkey. Krushchev responded by publicly announcing that the Soviets would dismantle their missiles inside Cuba. Nuclear war was averted. What’s more, because the Turkey deal was secret, Russia was widely seen to have backed down.

Obama has taken so much heat for his position about negotiating with our enemies. He’s taken criticism for being too calm, cool, and collected. He’s taking heat these days for not responding more forcefully to McCain during the debate — for being firm and resolute, without resorting to soundbite-style attacks or launching a counter-offensive. Many in the Jewish community write Obama off for even suggesting he would be open to using sticks and carrots with Iran, including holding out the prospect of negotiations.

If we don’t learn from history, I fear, we may be doomed not to repeat it.

My Obama Minute: Jane Mitakides

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

I gave a small donation tonight to Jane Mitakides, who is running for Congress in Ohio’s third district, which includes Dayton. Props to Barbara for pointing out this critical race. If we can elect such an impressive Democrat in this swing district — I’m confident Obama will be in the White House.

It’s clear from her Web site www.jane08.com that she’s got terrific priorities. I love how she talks about “rewarding work, not just wealth.” It’s a formula that suggests both an abiding respect for labor, and a recognition of perhaps the central priority problem of the past eight years — boiled down into an easy soundbite. It’s also clear that she’s got a sense of humor (she holds “big fat Greek fundraisers”).

Mitakides is running in a very conservative area against an incumbent with a scandal on his hands — so I’m sure every dollar helps!

September Madness

Friday, September 26th, 2008

As of this writing, we don’t know if the government is going to bail out Wall St., and we don’t know how it will play politically.

It’s been a good week for Obama, but the Neurotic Democrat in me knows it’s exactly 40 days too soon to celebrate. And forty days is a political eon.

Don’t believe me?

Think back a few weeks ago, when Russia invaded Georgia while Obama was on vacation in Hawaii. The restart of the Cold War is so yesterday’s news.

Poll numbers are trending the right way for Obama — which is important, because whatever it might signal for November, it definitely means the Palin bounce is over. But who knows how McCain is going to be seen, coming out of this government bailout? If he stands with the mavericks in his party against the president, it could re-launch his campaign yet again, firmly establishing his outsider, maverick cred with the whole nation watching.

In the midst of all of this, the NY Times reports this morning that Obama’s ads have gotten as sleazy as McCain’s. I was prepared to respond today with indignation — that Obama has sunk to McCain’s level — until I saw the new ad from the Republican Jewish Coalition, which links Barack Obama to Pat Buchanan. (Seriously. I couldn’t make this stuff up. You can see the ad here.) The ad is as misguided and off-putting as one can imagine, and it’s been thoroughly debunked by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (“RJC (mis)plays the Buchanan card”).

Yet it made me so momentarily angry that I went directly to politifact.com, determined to prove that McCain, overall, has been a far worse offender than Obama. (He has, arguably. You can check out the scorecard for yourself at Politifact.) What caught my attention, though, was Obama’s Spanish language ad, which takes Rush Limbaugh quotes (“stupid and unskilled Mexicans”), twists them out of context, and then, wrongly, seeks to tie McCain to Limbaugh on immigration.

Neither candidate, it seems, is actively pursuing justice justly these days.

Meanwhile, here in Ohio, Joe Biden’s recent gaffe about coal plants is getting significant play. This is from Steve Hoffman’s column in yesterday’s Akron Beacon Journal:

Campaigning this week in Strongsville, McCain sought to carve out an issue by embracing investment in clean-coal technology. This issue resonates with Southeast Ohio’s swing voters and has wide appeal in a state that generates 85 percent of its energy from coal, as opposed to the national average of 55 percent.

The issue was teed up for McCain by recent remarks by Sen. Joe Biden, Obama’s running mate. ”No coal plants here in America,” Biden said on a campaign swing in Maumee last week. ”Build them, if they’re going to build them, over there (in China). Make them clean.”

Since then, Democrats, among them Gov. Ted Strickland, have scrambled to say that the Democratic ticket supports clean-coal technology.

It’s one of several pretty big mistakes Biden has made recently on the campaign trail. We knew he was susceptible to this — and so did Obama. My sense — and this was confirmed seeing Biden speak at the NJDC policy conference this week — is that Biden is simply going too fast. He delivered his stump speech to the Jewish audience at breakneck speed. At times, it was hard to keep up with the points he was trying to make. With just a short time before the vp debate, in the midst of this economic meltdown, Obama needs to find some way, any way, to get Biden to slow down.

All of which leaves me, on the eve of the Jewish High Holidays, feeling somewhat unsettled.

I don’t have a very clear sense of the political moment. The policy path forward seems uncertain. The ethical underpinnings of this campaign, in flux.

I will say this. One of the reasons I truly love the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, is that it forces me to consider my own flaws, and to think about ways that I might improve. One of the things I struggle with — and this is exaggerated in a political season with an outcome I care so passionately about — is the sin of arrogance. Arrogance and self-righteousness.

I’ve put forth many opinions since the week before the Democratic National Convention, when I began blogging. I’ve tried to get the facts to support my stances; find supporting documents from the press; link to them where I can.

Still, I’m sure I’ve rushed to judgment at times. I’m sure I’ve published ill-considered opinions for all the world to see.

So, as I sign off for Shabbat just a few days before the Jewish High Holy Days, let me just say, in the spirit of relaunching my own, personal campaign:

I’m the Neurotic Democrat. I’ve been wrong before. I’ll be wrong again. And I’m not entirely sure.

My Obama Minute

Friday, September 26th, 2008

I’ve had a busy week. Went to the NJDC policy conference, in Washington DC, and have been blogging quite a bit, in particular about Obama’s strong support for Israel. I’ve been working behind the scenes to bring an Obama surrogate speaker to Akron, to further explain Obama’s positions on Israel for the local community. And I just now gave a small contribution to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which they are matching three-to-one prior to the end of September deadline.

Best of the NJDC Policy Conference

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

BEST JOKE: Joe Biden

Every year, the Yeshiva University crew team takes on the Harvard crew team, and, every year, Yeshiva gets creamed. Finally, the Yeshiva coach says he’s had enough, and asks one of his team members to go spy on the Harvard team, to learn why they are so successful.  The guy goes and hides in the bushes alongside the river, and watches the Harvard team as it passes by. Then, he leaps up, runs from the riverside, and finds his coach.

"I’ve got it!" he says. "I know the secret to their success! They’ve got eight guys rowing, and only one yelling!"

BEST NON SEQUITUR: Joe Biden

Who added: "That’s what we have to do this election: Ignore the malarkey, distractions, emails, and get behind Barack Obama. Straight up, folks."

BEST OPENER: Al Franken

"Thank you Marc. Thank you Ira. Thank you Jews. Thank you Democrats. Thank you members of the press — some of whom are probably Jews."

BEST POLITICAL ANALYSIS: Al Franken

Who noted that he was running against Sen. Norm Coleman (a Jew) who had succeeded Sen. Paul Wellstone (also a Jew), and concluded: "Minnesota is just not ready for a gentile."

MOST OPTIMISTIC ANALYSIS: William Galston, senior fellow, Brookings Institution

"Assuming Sen. Obama does not stumble badly, the odds are he’ll score a narrow but significant victory along the lines of Bush."

BEST ANALYSIS OF SENATE RACES: Amy Walter, Editor-in-chief of the Hotline

"Essentially in the bank" Democratic pickups: Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado, New Hampshire

Democrats have a very good shot: Alaska

Possible Democratic pickups, but still a stretch: Oregon, North Carolina

Tougher races for Democrats: Minnesota, Maine

On election night: 4 or fewer Democratic Senate pickups would be a bad night; 5 or 6 are likely to go Democratic; getting over 6 "means that all hell has broken lose."

BEST ANALYSIS OF HOUSE RACES: Nathan Gonzales, political editor, Rothenberg Political Report

"The Democrats are going to pick up seats, we just don’t know how many yet."

He said, possibly: More than 19.

Among the reasons: There are 26 open GOP seats; only 6 open Democratic seats. Also, the Democrats hold a distinct money advantage: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has $54 million in the bank, compared to $14 million for their GOP counterparts. Democrats are outspending Republicans right now 2-to-1 in competitive districts.

BIGGEST UNDERSTATEMENT: Nathan Gonzales

"It’s hip to like Barack Obama. It’s hip to wear an Obama T-shirt. I don’t think many people think it’s cool to wear a John McCain T-shirt."

BEST EXPLANATION OF SOMETHING I’VE BEEN WONDERING ABOUT: Stuart Rothenberg

Who explained that pollsters believe young people who have only cell phones don’t vote differently from young people who have land lines. (Which would mean the notion that Obama’s support is under-counted in the national polls because many of his supporters only have cell phones is likely false.)

BEST ANALOGY: Amy Walter

Who compared the election to the baseball season. Most people, she said, are just tuning in to the baseball season now, as the playoffs are about to start. "I have no idea who led the league in June," she said. "But I know it now." She added: "All those games played during the season mean very little to me." Similarly, she said, so much of what happened during the primaries and even into the general election — for instance, the Rev. Wright controversy — has little impact on people tuning in now. "It’s just stuff that happened," she said.

BEST SOUNDBITE: Congresswoman Shelley Berkley of Nevada

Who described a meeting she had in March of 2007 with Condi Rice, who was lobbying for support of the administration’s plan to sell $20 billion worth of advanced weapons to the Saudis. (The sale eventually went through, as was reported by the press in July 2007.)

Berkley was very resistant to providing so much deadly weaponry to a Middle East enemy of Israel.

According to Berkley, Rice said: "The president would not do anything to hurt Israel."

At which point Berkley replied: "With all due respect Madame Secretary. In ten months, you won’t be secretary of state. Bush won’t be president. But I’m still going to be Jewish."

BEST FOREIGN POLICY POINT: Congressman Brad Sherman of California

Who said that without Russia’s help, it would be difficult if not impossible to effectively pressure Iran. Yet McCain and Palin appear ready to start and "rigorously wage" a new Cold War with Russia.

"I don’t think we can beat the Russians and the extremists in two simultaneous wars," he said. "We need a smart foreign policy, not an angry foreign policy."

BEST POLITICAL POINT: Ann Lewis, senior advisor to HillPAC

Asked why the issue of Supreme Court nominees has not resonated even more strongly among liberals, Lewis said the threat is still: "Two ifs away."

If I vote for John McCain and if he appoints someone opposed to reproductive rights. It’s less immediate, she said, then, for example, equal pay for equal work.

BEST DOMESTIC POLICY POINT: Joe Biden

Speaking about John McCain’s plan to open up the health care market in the same way that the GOP has opened up the banking industry, he quoted his father: "Don’t tell me what you value, champ. Show me your budget — I’ll tell you what you value."

BEST OVERALL QUOTE : Steve Rabinowitz, President of Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications

How much time should we be devoting in our communities between now and election day to help Obama win?

"I only ask you to spend your every waking moment," he said. "And then — you can do whatever you want."