Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why Jesus Would Vote No On 8

Throughout this election season we have seen wild accusations, strong feelings and deceitful advertising on many issues. Nationally, this is focused on the Presidential race, but here in California we are seeing the same kind of bitter focus on a piece of legislation that, for a large portion of our population, is equally important.

I am among those with strong feelings about the proposal to amend the state constitution to define legal marriage as being between a man and a woman. Simply put, I must tell you that I am categorically against any law which denies any citizen their civil rights.

The primary opposition to that view is being based in the churches. It’s predictable. It is also, from my point of view, incredibly sad.

Approximately two thousand years ago, a transformational figure emerged from a small town called Nazareth. This man’s teachings and morality were so revolutionary that they have literally transformed the globe. He was an incredible pioneer… not in the area of religion, although that certainly applies. But in civil rights.

Let’s look at the man, his actions and his teaching. I am restraining this discussion to the actual words and deeds of the man Jesus. I am not, for the purposes of this piece, interested in the epistles of his followers. Also, I am taking the Gospels at face value, ignoring the questions about the literal truth of the document and focusing on the man they describe.

Jesus of Nazareth was the one of the first major western figures to propose such revolutionary concepts as the separation of church and state, pacifism in the face of persecution and a commitment to care for the poor, sick and disabled. But the leadership position I wish to emphasize here is his belief in equality.

If you examine the teachings and words of Jesus, you find a dramatic difference between him and his contemporaries. One that is less obvious to us because of the very changes his teachings helped bring about.

In that time, it was an accepted truth that a king was in all ways superior to his subjects, that only a priest could speak to God and that people who were different were inferior. Women were chattel. Children were an expendable commodity. Slavery was common. Those who worked in certain professions were not only misguided, but evil and sub-human.

Jesus rejected all of the above. He recruited his disciples from the ranks of fishermen. Laborers, whose lack of formal education was appalling to the men who sat in the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. He dared to suggest that a common man was as valuable as a king or priest. He not only suffered the attentions of children, he adored them. He sought out the companionship of women, not as sexual vessels, but as his intellectual equal. He healed lepers, who were considered to have been afflicted by God for their sins. He comforted the insane, who were considered to be possessed by demons.

And perhaps most shocking of all, he preached that Samaritans and Gentiles of all sorts, even Romans, were worthy of respect. Just as were such “scum” as tax collectors and prostitutes.

When he would not desist from these teachings, he was considered so incredibly dangerous that he was put to death. Not by the civil authorities. According to most accounts, they did everything they could to avoid condemning him. He was condemned by the religious establishment of his own country. By those viewed by the masses he preached to as closest to God. By the men who should most have embraced his message, were they truly concerned with souls instead of shekels.

Now, those who occupy the same place in the consciousness of California are arguing that a group of God’s children are somehow less deserving of civil rights. That granting these civil rights, despite not changing a single thing about their own lives, will somehow reduce the value of marriage. They are arguing that a “true believer” has no choice but to vote yes on Proposition Eight.

In doing so, they take a direct stand against the ideals of Jesus of Nazareth. They betray the very concepts this man died a horrible death to defend. They deny his example. Note that I am not talking about sin. I am talking about the legal principles that Jesus pioneered.

Peter denied his Lord three times. These people prepare to follow the example of Peter on November fourth. Peter’s guilt, by all accounts, followed him for the rest of his days and even influenced the manner of his death.

There is no doubt in my mind that if Jesus of Nazareth were to cast a ballot this November, he would vote against this measure to disenfranchise a portion of the masses. Every position of his ministry expresses this. He died rather than reject his convictions.

If you truly honor this man, how can you betray the principles of his life?

Ignore your personal Sanhedrin. Vote no on Proposition Eight.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Final Debate

It was the best of the three in many ways. Sitting across from each other, Barack Obama and John McCain were forced to face each other. We saw McCain finally acknowledge his opponent. We saw Obama "called forth" to answer the accusations about Ayers and ACORN.

It was the best moderated of the events, as someone finally took the initiative to keep the two candidates on track. That, the nature of the setting and the finality of this being the last chance to speak to the entire nation in one moment created some much more impassioned speech.

I watched this one on CNN, after watching the first on PBS and the second on NBC. CNN is the network which has been supplying focus groups with a dial to rate their reaction. The individuals turn the dial to indicate their positive or negative feelings, which are then shown on a graph at the base of the television screen. I liked the graph. It was interesting.

It absolutely PLUNGED when McCain went negative.

Obama seemed to score best with the graph on Education and on Health Care.

On the economy and taxes, it was more even.

Obama flatlined a few times, right in the middle... but he only rarely went below the midline. And most of the time when he did, it seemed to be when he was basically forced to "counter-punch" negative.

I saw nothing that I thought was a game changer. McCain started much better than in the past two debates. But he lost that momentum in the middle, which I thought was more even and then he crashed. I felt Obama won the last third.

There was also a dramatic difference on the questions about the VP choice. Sarah Palin has certainly been a divisive choice. While she has fired up the Republican base, It would seem evident that the country as a whole do not approve of her and do not feel she is qualified. Joe Biden does not seem to evoke much emotion, yet people do trust him and feel that he could lead the nation.

Finally, I noticed that McCain did much better with men than women. While this was most clear on the Roe v. Wade question, it was visible throughout the night. If we use the CNN focus group as a model, I would have to conclude that women simply do not trust John McCain.

Every media outlet while give you the soundbites, so I feel no need to rehash them. (We will all be sick of hearing about Joe the Plumber soon.) I will say that I feel that Obama did perform better than McCain, although I know my own bias plays into that. But Barack appeared calm and measured. John McCain, on the other hand, sometimes appeared as though he were barely able to contain his anger. I think that will make an impact. Most people don't want that reaction in a crisis.

In the end, McCain did not get the dramatic faux pas or mistake from Obama that he needed, nor did he find a way to differentiate himself from the messages he has given out on the campaign trail.

Obama could have lost the election tonight. He could not win. Basically, Obama held serve. With a ten point advantage in the polls, that may very well be enough.

Judging this debate as an isolated event, I still feel Obama won the evening. However, there is little doubt that this was McCain's best performance. But Obama was far more clear and impressive on Health Care and Education and although he did not hammer McCain on the economy as he has in the past, he still seemed better equipped to handle the issue than his opponent.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

Today, I take a break from berating presidential politics. It's Blog Action Day and the subject is Poverty.

Odds are, a good percentage of those who might read this have only dealt with the issue at arm's length. That's not a bad thing, by the way. I'm not going to sit here and yell at you for being above the poverty line. The old saw about catching more flies with honey definitely applies to charity. Getting angry doesn't increase donations. Every activist working in an inner city or on country back roads knows this very well.

My own experience is a little closer, although I have never felt poor. But there were weeks growing up when we ate the same thing three or four days in a row. Corned beef, cheese sandwiches and hot dogs & beans are intricately woven into my childhood. There were years when Christmas was more about refilling the sock drawer than a new bicycle. By some definitions, my family came close to that scary "poverty line." Close enough to be on government assistance a time or two. Close enough to shop at a thrift store or Pic n' Save instead of Macy's, let alone Nordstroms.

But let's face it, that's nothing. We had a roof over our head and we live in a country that helps. It could help more, but we'll save that topic for later.

I live in San Diego. It is my home and it always will be, even if my travels lead me other places for extended times. I grew up here, in a city that draws tourists and rightfully seems to have fewer problems than many urban areas. We do have many people living on that edge, although we don't have projects like Chicago or abandoned buildings like New York. We have families that are just scraping by.

However, living in San Diego also means living next to Tijuana.

I have seen poverty. Real poverty. The whole family living in a room whose walls melt in the rain, under an aluminum sheet roof where everyone has to be outside in the afternoon because inside becomes an oven. In high school, I helped feed orphans whose lives made me vow never to be unthankful about the conditions as I grew up. I have seen a child kneeling on a sidewalk leading to the United States, unwashed and awake at three a.m. because he has no school to go to in the morning, singing "La Bamba" and hammering a cheap guitar with three broken strings. Hoping that some drunk American teenager, who has crossed the border to party, will toss him a quarter. Mothers sitting under an overhang with an infant suckling while the baby's brother and sister try to get someone to buy Chiclets.

Scenes that we like to think exist only in India or Africa happen on hillsides that, on a clear day, I can see from my house. Unlike Sarah Palin, I don't think that just because I can see the hills of Tijuana makes me an expert on how to erase the scourge of poverty from our planet.

I don't wonder at the causes of illegal immigration. If I could get my family out of those conditions, I too would cross a desert to find a minimum wage job.

And yet, I can become desensitized. I've grown up with this, seen it a thousand times. It's only when someone points it out to me that I feel the things I felt the first time I saw it.

We are the lucky ones. If you own a computer to read this on, you are living in greater luxury than the majority of the people who have lived on this planet. And you are living in greater comfort than a great many living on it today.

Do something.

On days when I remember, I donate clothes to thrift stores. Toys my children have outgrown. I have fed the poor, but not recently. I have done volunteer work. I am proud of the efforts I have made, both with my time and my money. I am proud to be part of organizations like Coming Together.

But there are times when I need to be reminded that I can do more.

If you are out there and you aren't doing something, do it now. You are already on the computer. Make a donation. Ten bucks. The cost of a couple hours entertainment at the movie house will feed a houseful of children in Tijuana. I don't need to point out where… you know how to use Google and I don't really care which charity you pick. The next time they ask you in the checkout line to donate a dollar, say yes. If a dirty five year old sings "La Bamba" at you, have the compassion to empty your pockets of their change. It means a lot more to him than to you.

I don't care what you do. There are a thousand choices.

But do it. We are the lucky ones. Share some luck today. Believe me, the feeling you get back is worth it.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

John McCain Stars In "The Gambler"

One can almost imagine the frustration of Michael Jordan.

Gambling rumors once came close to destroying his lucrative endorsements. Yet this fall, the Chicago Bulls great has watched as a front page story in the New York Times about a presidential contender's habit has immediately disappeared from the public's attention.

John McCain doesn't hide his habit. Is it because of this, because he can sit there and respond, "I am a betting man" on national television, that no one is interested in what this could mean as part of the philosophy of the Commander In Chief?

The easy excuse is that we assume that a man who has spent twenty-five years in a position of great authority is beyond the temptation to follow his reckless urges on matters of national importance. After all, no President would take such wild chances. Just because someone enjoys putting their money on the table in Vegas doesn't mean they would gamble with the responsibilities of their office.

The problem with this assumption is that Mr. McCain's own behavior is contrary to it. The McCain campaign has been rolling the dice for months, and they continue to do so without the slightest hesitation. Sarah Palin is only the most obvious of these questionable decisions, and the book is still out on the wisdom of that choice.

In the immediate aftermath of the campaign's controversial decision to name the Alaska governor as running mate, it seemed to be a good bet. The polls in the days that followed allowed the campaign to rake in a few chips, and it energized the Republican base in a gratifying way. In short, the decision was a short term winner.

However, as any race track aficionado knows, hitting a long shot early does not necessarily mean that you will leave with more money in your pocket than you had on arrival. In many cases, quite the opposite is true. Your success at the beginning often fuels wild and unwise choices late in the afternoon, so that by the time you head for the parking lot, you end up down far more than you ever intended to spend.

John McCain has been laying crazy bets for the last month. Mortgage plans and "Who is Barack Obama?" are just two of them. The most damaging was the false suspension of his campaign, a mistake he is now trying to minimize by returning to David Letterman. Upsetting the only man more popular in Indiana than Larry Bird was hardly a wise choice.

So, John McCain is willing to gamble with the choices he makes in his campaign. A campaign that is the culmination of years of preparation and in itself is a fulfillment of a lifetime struggle to emerge from the shadows of his famous father and grandfather.

The Presidential nomination is the most important thing that has ever happened to Senator McCain. It is obvious, in his demeanor and in his desperate abandonment of many of the moral positions he has held throughout public life, how much the presidency means to him. Yet his impulses remain. In the pursuit of the one goal that has dominated his destiny for decades, John McCain is immediately willing to shake those dice, ask Sarah Palin to blow on them and let fly. He'll take his chances.

The problem is that if he wins his biggest bet, the stakes will change forever. It won't be his livelihood and reputation on the line. It will be the well-being, safety, and security of every single one of us. If John McCain somehow manages to go on a three week winning streak and ends up in the White House, his long shot win will fuel years of belief in his own luck.

Every pit boss in Vegas will tell you that, eventually, the house always comes out ahead.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Moment Which Defined This Election? "That One."

It's a catchy headline that a columnist salivates over. Yet I found myself so reluctant to use it that I decided not to follow my normal pattern of writing immediately after a debate due to the way it dominated my thoughts.

With an evening to think on it and a good night's sleep behind, I realize it dominated my thoughts for a reason.

The appalling and disrespectful moment when John McCain referred to Barack Obama by pointing a finger sideways and saying "that one" with utter disdain captures everything about the man that gives me pause when I imagine him as President.

Moments can define people. As a writer and a film buff I should know this. When Lawrence of Arabia stands on the roof of the train, when Sidney Poitier says, "They call me Mr. Tibbs!" or when Indiana Jones casually pulls his gun and shoots the swordsman in the marketplace, those characters are defined forever.

John McCain defined himself in that moment. He thinks he is better than everyone around him. He thinks that this presidency is his because he deserves it and no one else does. He showed not only disdain for Barack Obama, but for all of us. Our votes are his by right. He doesn't need to earn them.

See, John McCain thinks he is entitled to that post. He thinks that the fact that he has to go out and cater to all of us in order to be elected is ridiculous. Because why should he have to parade around in front of these people who are beneath him in order to get the job he so obviously deserves?

I struggle with this characterization. It is an awful thing to say about a man who suffered as a P.O.W. and who has spent the great majority of his life in service to his country.

But it fits.

If I was writing John McCain, as a character in a novel, and I needed the reader to "get this" about the character, I could not have chosen a better way to make the point. And it changes the rest of his actions in ways that make sense within the character. It explains his choice of Sarah Palin, since her obvious flaws become inconsequential to a man who thinks he knows so much more than those around him. The pat on the back of the audience member, the constant use of the condescending "my friends" and the repeating of talking points that have already been shown to be untrue all make sense from this point of view into John McCain.

It explains why he thinks he can fly into Washington with a non-suspended suspension of his campaign and think that he will emerge victorious. It explains why he feels it's no big deal to blow off David Letterman. It explains his role in the Keating Five. It explains his first marriage and how it ended. It explains the awful jokes.

And it fits with a man who was involved in three flying accidents in the Navy before he was shot down and yet never lost his wings because of who his father was. With a man who knew they wouldn't kick him out of the Naval Academy. With a man who pledged this spring to run a clean campaign on the issues and instead is running what the New York Times called this morning "one of the most appalling campaigns we can remember."

It explains why he can't look at Obama. It explains why he is okay running the horrible ads. It explains why he can make outrageous claims like Obama not agreeing to ten Town Halls "forced" him to go negative and why he can tell his lies with a wink and a smile.

It's a moment I am not going to be able to shake easily. Because, as a writer, I feel it reveals character. Perfectly. I couldn't have written a better scene and thus I am hard-pressed to explain away what I saw and heard.

The only question to be answered is who John McCain respects less. Barack Obama? Or all of us?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Supporting The Troops

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have today released their annual "Report Cards" on the House and Senate. Some of you may be familiar with this idea of giving members of Congress a letter grade based on their voting records and sponsorship of legislation that supports various organizations.

In today's political climate, I consider this organization's grade to be one of those that makes a difference. To me, it has to do with the old value of actions speaking louder than words. Or as John McCain has recently called the concept, not only "talking the talk, but walking the walk."

The results are not surprising to me. But I think that they should be. It saddens me that I am not surprised.

For review, let me point out that the McCain campaign has repeatedly attacked Barack Obama as not supporting the troops. Their attacks have ranged from negative ads released after Obama's trip to Germany to questioning his voting record in both debates to comparing the number of trips he took to Iowa with those he took to Iraq.
John McCain also goes to great lengths to remind everyone of his experience as a POW.

It's something that is one of the great disconnects with John McCain. In my experience, and based on what I read in the experience of most others, the great majority of our veteran's are reluctant to speak about their own service. My father is very proud of his service, as evidenced by his Vietnam Vet bumper sticker and photos of his friends on the wall above his computer. Yet he rarely mentions it, and to actually get him to speak about that time in more than a passing fashion requires emotional trauma.

The IAVA proudly gave out 150 perfect scores this year. That shows the nation's commitment to our troops, even in a very unpopular war. We should all be proud. Unfortunately, they also gave out 9 D's or F's.

Anyway, to the grades of the presidential candidates. Largely due to his absences while on the campaign trail, Barack Obama receives a B. I would greatly prefer that to be otherwise, knowing that it is a subject we both consider of great import, but there it is. Not the top grade, but respectable.

John McCain gets a D.

Let me repeat that. John McCain received a D. Yes, his large number of absences affect his grade. But they also affected Barack Obama, yet he got a B.

Also, if you go to the website of the IAVA and download the full document of their 2008 Report Card, you will notice that while they do not take a politician's military service into the grading, they do notate that service by placing a star next to their name.

Of all the Senators listed, only one man has that honorable star next to the dishonor of a D or an F. John McCain.

Way to "walk the walk" there, John.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Morning After Reactions To Sarah Vs. Joe

So all the pundits, including me, are out in force. We all have opinions and many of them are based primarily on what we thought going into the debate rather than on what we thought about it.

Last night, I praised Sarah Palin for doing better than expected. I stand by that. She did do better than expected. However, I find some of the reactions to that performance dismaying.

Fox News said she stopped the bleeding and may have once again saved John McCain's campaign. Newspapers and websites all over are spending the first couple column inches of their stories praising her for, basically, not being a train wreck. But then they are all unanimous in saying that she got her tail kicked in the actual debating department. So why is the first part of the story, well known by every editor to be the most likely part to be read, spent praising the loser?

THIS is equality? This is the performance of a woman who is supposed to shatter the glass ceiling, a claim she made in her RNC acceptance speech? She got her butt kicked! Everybody says so, even the Republican wags. How then are we full of praise for her today? Do you think Elizabeth Dole would have done so poorly? What about Kay Hutchinson?

Or better yet... rewind a few months and watch Hilary Clinton debating Joe Biden. Not only does she not get embarrassed, she stands toe to toe and wins points. THAT'S damaging the glass ceiling. Not pathetic fallback on rehearsed talking points because you can't actually answer the question. Not thinking that we have recalled a Union General from 1862 to take over in Afghanistan. Not long pauses to search her memory of the prep work in Arizona. Not blindly repeating falsehoods that had been blown out of the water by Barack Obama when John McCain tried to use them a week earlier.

I wake up and look at the news organizations and the blogosphere and I am annoyed that we would lower our political standards in this way. When Dan Quayle did this we barbecued him. And rightfully so.

To say that Sarah Palin did so well last night just because she was not a total failure repairs the glass ceiling, it does not damage it. There are many women in national politics who would have done far better debating Joe Biden than Sarah Palin did.

You can wink at me and drop consonants off your words all you want, Sarah. It won't convert me to supporting you because you are "folksy." Yes, you're attractive. But the naughty librarian look loses it's appeal when the person wearing it favors censorship. Yes, you are the first female Republican to be nominated for a national executive office. But I can't say that you are a standard-bearer for women's rights when you favor removing many of the victories already achieved and when your campaign won't even commit to supporting legislation for equal pay.

Sarah Palin showed she's one of us. That's what I keep hearing. Well, guess what? The top two executive jobs in the country are not supposed to be held by people that are "one of us." The people in those jobs are supposed to be exceptional. Not "just plain folks."

The more I write, the angrier I get. Quit cutting her so much slack. Hold her to the same standards you held Hilary to, the ones you held Geraldine Ferraro to and, yes, the ones you hold Barack Obama, Joe Biden and John McCain to as well.

To do anything less does not shatter the glass ceiling, it repairs it.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Palin Exceeds Expectations

About a week ago, I wrote that Barack Obama basically won the first Presidential debate by exceeding expectations. Even the most partisan Democrat would have to say that the same was true of Sarah Palin tonight, that she exceeded expectations dramatically. But does that mean she won?

Even Fox News won't say that, although they do reveal their leanings and hardly-surprising-by-now by bias by quoting her NINE times before they do Joe Biden.

But, all Sarah needed to do tonight was not be a complete and total lackwit. And yes, she succeeded in that. If this were a high school debate competition, the scores would go overwhelmingly to Joe Biden. Indeed, a CNN poll conducted in the wake of the debate showed that 97% of America thought Joe Biden was knowledgeable about the issues. That's pretty intense. But another poll said that 84% felt Palin did "better than expected."

So what does it all mean? The jury is still out on that, but in the all-important realm of the undecided voter, it seems to mean a slight victory for Obama. In yet another CNN poll, 18% of undecided voters said tonight had made them decide for Obama, while 10% said they were now committed to McCain.

In my not-so-humble opinion, Sarah scored a victory tonight because she did show that she has dimensions to her that are not evident when Tina Fey plays her on Saturday Night Live. But that does not mean she changed my mind about how incredibly scary she is.

That's gonna take actions, not just words. You betcha.