Friday, August 29, 2008



"All across America something is stirring -- Change happens because the American people demand it, because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time."
(Barack Obama's Nomination Acceptance Speech, August 28, 2008)

While the pundits are for the most part missing this central call to action in Obama's speech, and Juan Williams on NPR today referred to the speech as one that will NOT be memorable (I suspect pundits said the same thing after FDR's early speeches), all Americans who are suffering and desiring a change from the failed Republican policies of the last eight years will beg to differ!

Unlike those media pundits and Republican operatives who are detached from the real sufferings of many Americans, Obama understands the roots of the demand for fundamental change, and in last night's speech finally addressed the call of many to spell out the details of the kind of change he will bring to Washington.

But, as he noted, he can't do this alone. Bringing change to Washington first requires that we make sure he is elected, and will then require that we all dig in to do the work of change, since even if Obama is elected, he will not be able to bring the change we need without the constant and firm pressure of all of us working to push progressive initiatives forward.

So its time for all of us to dig in and get to work. Obama last night provided a stirring call to action. Now we must all rise up to do the work required to get him elected, turn back all the efforts the Republicans will exert to prevent Obama's election--including lies, distortions, and interference with a fair voting process--and then get to work to transform the policy priorities of the nation. For we need not only a new politics, but also new policy for a new time....

Thank you, Barack Obama, for preserving the spirit of ML King's glorious speech 45 years ago, and for calling Americans to action in that spirit. I hope Americans will now prove themselves worthy of your faith and trust.


Text of Barack Obama's Democratic Nomination Acceptance Speech

"The American Promise"
Democratic Convention
Thursday, August 28th, 2008
Denver, Colorado

To Chairman Dean and my great friend Dick Durbin; and to all my fellow citizens of this great nation;

With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.

Let me express my thanks to the historic slate of candidates who accompanied me on this journey, and especially the one who traveled the farthest - a champion for working Americans and an inspiration to my daughters and to yours -- Hillary Rodham Clinton. To President Clinton, who last night made the case for change as only he can make it; to Ted Kennedy, who embodies the spirit of service; and to the next Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, I thank you. I am grateful to finish this journey with one of the finest statesmen of our time, a man at ease with everyone from world leaders to the conductors on the Amtrak train he still takes home every night.

To the love of my life, our next First Lady, Michelle Obama, and to Sasha and Malia - I love you so much, and I'm so proud of all of you.

Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story - of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren't well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to.

It is that promise that has always set this country apart - that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well.

That's why I stand here tonight. Because for two hundred and thirty two years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women - students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors -- found the courage to keep it alive.

We meet at one of those defining moments - a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.

Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can't afford to drive, credit card bills you can't afford to pay, and tuition that's beyond your reach.

These challenges are not all of government's making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.

America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.

This country is more decent than one where a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement, finds herself one illness away from disaster after a lifetime of hard work.

This country is more generous than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment he's worked on for twenty years and watch it shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.

We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.

Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land:


This moment - this election - is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive. Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: "Eight is enough."

Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. And next week, we'll also hear about those occasions when he's broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

But the record's clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time? I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a ten percent chance on change.

The truth is, on issue after issue that would make a difference in your lives - on health care and education and the economy - Senator McCain has been anything but independent. He said that our economy has made "great progress" under this President. He said that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. And when one of his chief advisors - the man who wrote his economic plan - was talking about the anxiety Americans are feeling, he said that we were just suffering from a "mental recession," and that we've become, and I quote, "a nation of whiners."

A nation of whiners? Tell that to the proud auto workers at a Michigan plant who, after they found out it was closing, kept showing up every day and working as hard as ever, because they knew there were people who counted on the brakes that they made. Tell that to the military families who shoulder their burdens silently as they watch their loved ones leave for their third or fourth or fifth tour of duty. These are not whiners. They work hard and give back and keep going without complaint. These are the Americans that I know.

Now, I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know. Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans? How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people's benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?

It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it.

For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy - give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is - you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps - even if you don't have boots. You're on your own.

Well it's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change America.

You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.

We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President - when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush.

We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job - an economy that honors the dignity of work.

The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great - a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight.

Because in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton's Army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.

In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships.

When I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by and fought for two decades ago after the local steel plant closed.

And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle-management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She's the one who taught me about hard work. She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she's watching tonight, and that tonight is her night as well.

I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as President of the United States.

What is that promise?

It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.

It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves - protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.

Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.

That's the promise of America - the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper.

That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now.

So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am President.

Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.

Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.

I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

I will cut taxes - cut taxes - for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

Washington's been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years, and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them. In that time, he's said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy - wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced.

America, now is not the time for small plans.

Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don't have that chance. I'll invest in early childhood education. I'll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American - if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don't, you'll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.

Now is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family leave, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick child or ailing parent.

Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses; and the time to protect Social Security for future generations.

And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day's work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons.

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I've laid out how I'll pay for every dime - by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don't help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less - because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy.

And Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America's promise will require more than just money. It will require a renewed sense of responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called our "intellectual and moral strength." Yes, government must lead on energy independence, but each of us must do our part to make our homes and businesses more efficient. Yes, we must provide more ladders to success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can't replace parents; that government can't turn off the television and make a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility for providing the love and guidance their children need.

Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility - that's the essence of America's promise.

And just as we keep our keep our promise to the next generation here at home, so must we keep America's promise abroad. If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have.

For while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats we face. When John McCain said we could just "muddle through" in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights. John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell - but he won't even go to the cave where he lives.

And today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush Administration, even after we learned that Iraq has a $79 billion surplus while we're wallowing in deficits, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war.

That's not the judgment we need. That won't keep America safe. We need a President who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past.

You don't defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq. You don't protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can't truly stand up for Georgia when you've strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice - but it is not the change we need.

We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me that Democrats won't keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans -- Democrats and Republicans - have built, and we are here to restore that legacy.

As Commander-in-Chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm's way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

These are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain.

But what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America - they have served the United States of America.

So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past. For part of what has been lost these past eight years can't just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits.

What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose - our sense of higher purpose. And that's what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers.

This too is part of America's promise - the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that's to be expected. Because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

And you know what - it's worked before. Because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn't work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it's best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know.

I get it. I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. I don't fit the typical pedigree, and I haven't spent my career in the halls of Washington.

But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the nay-sayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me. It's been about you.

For eighteen long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past.

You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us - that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to Washington.

Change happens because the American people demand it - because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.

America, this is one of those moments.

I believe that as hard as it will be, the change we need is coming. Because I've seen it. Because I've lived it. I've seen it in Illinois, when we provided health care to more children and moved more families from welfare to work. I've seen it in Washington, when we worked across party lines to open up government and hold lobbyists more accountable, to give better care for our veterans and keep nuclear weapons out of terrorist hands.

And I've seen it in this campaign. In the young people who voted for the first time, and in those who got involved again after a very long time. In the Republicans who never thought they'd pick up a Democratic ballot, but did. I've seen it in the workers who would rather cut their hours back a day than see their friends lose their jobs, in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb, in the good neighbors who take a stranger in when a hurricane strikes and the floodwaters rise.

This country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that's not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

Instead, it is that American spirit - that American promise - that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours - a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could've heard many things. They could've heard words of anger and discord. They could've been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead - people of every creed and color, from every walk of life - is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.

"We cannot walk alone," the preacher cried. "And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."

America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise - that American promise - and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Burden of Michelle Obama on the first night of the Democratic Convention (according to a racialized media)

From PolicyBusters:

While the Media Class—with its usual flair for normalizing the most horridly racialized assumptions via blandly innocuous-sounding language—framed the drama of last night’s opening of the Democratic Convention around the question, "Will Michelle Obama be able to 'humanize' Barack Obama for the American public?", Michelle's brilliant speech not only put to shame the racialized assumptions supporting this media framing, but turned these assumptions on their head.

And by turning on their head the assumptions undergirding the media’s framing of last night’s Convention drama, Michelle Obama’s exemplary words highlighted the REAL question that this Convention and Presidential Election poses to the people of the American Republic [--and if the class of media pundits observing this Convention really wants to humanize itself and serve the interests of both its audience and the Republic, it will henceforth learn from the speech of Michelle Obama to substitute this REAL question for the horribly banal and racialized questions it otherwise seems so stupidly condemned to reproduce ad nauseum]:

Will the American public of 2008 and its media class rise to the humanizing challenge posed by the values (of family and patriotism) exemplified by the words of Michelle Obama, and thereby humanize the American republic?

If the Media Class wants to rehumanize itself and demonstrate its own true patriotism in the weeks of election coverage remaining, it will learn from the example of Michelle Obama’s words to begin confronting itself and the American public with the REAL questions that need to be asked after a decade during which our Republic--operating in defiance of law and human decency--has allowed itself to be dehumanized by a corrupt regime of excuses normalized under the administrative mask of the "war on terror."

As usual in its amazingly banal forms of racialized language, the American media class framed Michelle Obama's challenge to be that of "humanizing" her husband for the American public. This framing not only presumed that the American public perceives Barack Obama to be less than human, and therefore in need of being “humanized,” but then presumed to place the heavy burden of responsibility for rehumanizing an Obama that a racialized media and the reigning public discourse has been so responsible for dehumanizing, not on itself—but on the black woman who married the black man who presumed himself to be human enough to deserve the right of every citizen to run for this nation’s highest office.

This framing trope, which attempted to make the black wife of a black man responsible for “humanizing” her husband, dipped back into the ocean of racialized powers of discourse and politics going back to slavery times, and itself speaks deeply to how much re-humanizing and de-racializing of the media and our Republic is still needed today--all the more so in an era that so often and so blandly presumes itself—against all evidence to the contrary—to have achieved a level of human consciousness “beyond race and racism.”

Apart from the offensive absurdity of all the racialized assumptions inherent in the media class's framing of the drama of Michelle's challenge during the first night of the Democratic Convention, the presumptive stance taken by media pundits toward Michelle, as if they assumed that they could define and prescribe for Michelle what she was supposed to do with her speech, was made all the more absurd by the brilliance with which the humanizing spirit of Michelle Obama's words posed the real challenge of this election quite differently: Will the media class and the American people rise to the challenge of humanizing itself posed by the exemplary words of Michelle Obama last night?

While so much of last night’s TV coverage by the pundits of CNN, MSNBC, and even PBS, continued to be grounded in the same old clichéd framing that has managed to make this most exciting of election campaigns sound boring over the last seven months, Michelle's speech embodied the ennobling power and inspiration of the humanizing passion evoked by Teddy Kennedy's words, and reemphasized the reality underlying Kennedy's proclamation that what is now being presented to the American people in this Election is the most profound of choices:

A choice between a continuation of the destructive politics of racial and class division that has defined the past, and has been reexaggerated by the policies of the current administration, or a turn to a new politics that can begin to embody in policy and practice the hope inspired by the words of Martin Luther King uttered 45 years ago in Washington, D.C.

The REAL Question is: Has eight years of lies and corrupt administration been enough to wake more than half of the American people up to the horrible future into which we are heading without a change, or has it merely reinforced the worst tendencies and assumptions of American power and discourse, and hardened them under the guise of fear and the self-justifying rhetoric of a self-defensive war on terror?

This election, with all that is so immediately at stake for the Republic and the world in the four years ahead, may well determine whether the ennobling hope and dream of a just and equal American Republic, embodied in words by Martin Luther King, Jr., 45 years ago this Thursday, will remain merely a fading dream, or begin to be embodied in the policies and practices of a democratically renewed American Republic. Let us hope, at least, that in the days ahead, both the American public and its Media class will prove itself worthy of the ennobling gift presented to us all by Michelle Obama’s exemplary words last night. For it is not Barack Obama who needs to be humanized for the American public (since he has already shown himself to be abundantly human), but the American media and its public that needs to be humanized for the sake of the future of the American Republic and the rest of the world.

And if the words of Michelle Obama last night are any indication of the role she would play as “first lady” of this Republic, we can be sure of one thing: Our Republic would be deeply ennobled and humanized by her presence at the helm of this Nation’s ship of state.

So the real question is not about what Michelle Obama will do to "humanize" her husband, but what WE will do in the weeks ahead, culminating on November 4, to give ourselves and our country the opportunity to be humanized by the experience of living in a nation that embraces the challenges of making the DREAM real, over the misleading comforts of living in the mire of fear and self-deluding presumptions of totalizing power that have been fueling our so-called “war on terror.”

Such fear and self-delusion, if allowed to control us, will enslave us all to an ever more monstrously self-defeating police state that devotes our national resources to running away from, rather than embracing, the humanizing courage and creativity needed to meet the tremendous challenges of the twenty-first century. As guidance in the right direction, the words of Michelle Obama exemplify the humanizing courage and dedication our country so deeply needs for inspiration.

I hope our political work and choices in the weeks ahead will prove ourselves and our country worthy of the gift of Michelle's humanizing example and faith, as manifest last night. And I hope that for the remainder of this election campaign the Media class will substitute the humanizing insight and vision of her perspectives for the dehumanizing and blinding perspectives of the present.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Truth of the "Bush Legacy" of Deception Begins to Unravel--from Inside

News flash: President Bush is surprised at the tone of Scott McClellan's book! What a surprise this is (not!)--

Last August, in my open letter to President Bush on this blog, I appealed to President Bush to come clean with the American people, and to begin to correct the harm he has done. I appealed to him to turn to the truth and dramatically change his policies on war and global warming to do whatever he could to save some shred of a positive legacy for himself and his administration. But true to form he has utterly refused to change course, or to admit the terrible harm his administration has done to this country and the world.

Instead, President Bush has continued to insist on the same old policies and approach, in ways that have confirmed his intention, seemingly, to become the worst President in the history of the United States.

So be it. And now the truth is already, even before the end of his administration, beginning to reveal itself--from sources within the administration now rebelling against the ways they were used to disseminate lies and betray the American people.

Finally the real bottom-line of the Bush administration--which we have long suspected, and have been catching glimpses of from other sources--is beginning to be revealed. A few of those like Scott McClellan, formerly inside the administration, have finally realized they have more to lose by going down in infamy with the Bush administration, than by fessing up to all the ways they allowed themselves to be used to lie to the American people while they played their infamous parts in the administration.

While we cannot forgive McClellan's failure to speak truth to power in a more timely way that would have allowed us to unmask the workings of the administration in time to prevent it from doing some of the harm it has done over the last several years, we can certainly commend him and all like him who realize it is NOW in their interest and the interests of the American people to cut their losses and speak the truth about what they have been part of.

For history will remember, and will convict--even if the law does not--all those who have been willing parts of the conspiracy of silence that allowed this administration to perpetrate its offenses against the constitutional rights of all Americans, while bringing shame and condemnation upon this entire nation in the eyes of the rest of the world.

THE LEAST that all who were part of this administration can now do is to imitate Scott McClellan, and confess what they know about what really happened so that we all can learn the truth about this administration as quickly as possible, and begin to turn to the work of correcting the great harm done to the Constitution, this Nation, and the world, before it is too late.

So we now call on all who have been part of this Administration, to follow the brave example of Scott McClellan, and to come clean on all the ways this administration has manipulated reality through propaganda and worse, to achieve its ends of power--by treating the American people as if we were the enemy that needed to be manipulated into allowing the administration to act out its war on the world.

Since Bush is now making broad comparisons to WWII and the war against Hitler, he should realize that historical references to Hitler work both ways, and require responsibility from him: While he may not have gone as far as Hitler to commit the level of crimes against humanity that led to the Holocaust, yet by coercing the American people into an unnecessary war in Iraq, he has been the cause of the deaths of more than 4000 American soldiers, and of tens of thousands of life-disabling injuries, and of the wreckage of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives--and all for what, exactly?!

And so, as this disastrous administration declines into history, I write this second open letter to President Bush, as a last appeal to President Bush to do something NOW to salvage some shard of respect for his historical legacy:

An Open Letter of Appeal to President Bush: Toward a Legacy of Infamy?

Dear President Bush:

Historical legacy is a tricky thing. While you may have wished to use lies and deception in the name of building up your historical legacy through war, History is not so easily manipulated, and the truth will eventually come out. Just as saving one life is the equivalent of saving a world, you must at some point realize that all the lives you have brought to an unnecessary end are the equivalent of many thousands of worlds destroyed.

Lives wasted, worlds destroyed, and all the while your war has distracted us from deploying our resources to address the real problems that face humanity in the battle to save us all from the ravages of global warming. This will be the destructive legacy of your Presidency, Mr. Bush, which will make the memory of your administration one of infamy to all future generations--unless you do something NOW to alter your fate.

Your only chance now of avoiding this legacy of Infamy, Mr. Bush, is to follow the example of Scott McClellan, and come clean with the American people about what your administration has done, so we can all immediately begin to work together to heal the great harm your administration has done to this country and the world.

If you want to help to repair some portion of the harm you have done, you can still change your ways, and turn to the truth. But you now have less than eight months left to begin to repair some of the harm you have done. How you will be remembered is indeed up to you. Will you choose to continue down your path of infamy, or will you do what is necessary to become part of the healing and work of repair? The choice is up to you.

But one way or another, history will reveal the truth of what your administration has done, whether you wish it to or not. And if we are forced to discover the truth of what you've done without your help, the depth of the infamy with which you are remembered will only deepen as ever more of the truth is revealed--as we are already beginning to see.

You don't have much time left, Mr. Bush, to avoid going down in history as the most infamous of American Presidents. However, if you now turn to the truth, and become honest with the American people about what you've done, you can perhaps avoid this fate. The choice is up to you. I hope you'll make the right choice, and begin to help the American people repair the harm your administration has done. History, and the whole world, is watching, and will judge your legacy--based not only on the truth of what you have done, but also on all that you have not done.

But if you choose to continue along your current path, know that your refusal to admit the truth and to begin to help us all repair the damage of the last eight years, will be the final testament and seal on your legacy of infamy, which in the years to come will be revealed for all the world to see. If this is how you would choose to be remembered, the best we can say is: May God have mercy on your poor soul.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Lessons for Response from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" (April 16, 1963)

“I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail")

The now raging debate over the decontextualized posting of Obama's words regarding the "bitterness" of American voters who have seen their jobs, their sources of livelihood, and their way of life continually chipped away over the last decade of Republican rule is amazing on several counts.

This media frenzy over a snippet of decontextualized words is amazing for the way it demonstrates how the politics of this campaign--even as the pundits claim they would like to begin a national "conversation about race"--can be so easily manipulated and framed by the worst kinds of media misrepresentation and pandering (by some unethical bloggers, followed by most of the media) to time-worn racialized cliches that would attempt to put the "uppity black man" back in his place for daring to critique the status quo of power and economic relations in this country.

This debate over a few decontextualized words is also amazing for the way it has helped to distract media coverage of the campaign away from the kind of substantive critique of Republican policies and their impacts on everyday people that is at the heart of Obama's campaign. This criticism of Republican policies and their bitter impact on the lives of everyday Americans was the basic context of the Obama conversation, which has now been completely silenced by the media distraction created by the unethical posting of a blogger who, without the knowledge of Obama, recorded and posted Obama’s conversation. And this blogger defends her right to do this by claiming she is a citizen-journalist, as if this label somehow frees her from the common decency and ethics that govern the behavior of other professional journalists.

This whole incident seems to have been perfectly designed to distract public debate and attention from precisely the criticisms of Republican policy that have been making the lives of many Americans so bitter over the last years. Obama has been focusing attention on the need to attack the sources of bitter impoverishment and injustice that many Americans in cities and small towns and rural areas across the country are suffering as a result of the policies of several decades that have neglected the economic interests of the vast majority of Americans in favor of the interests of the millionaires of the country!

And now, behold, we have a media spectacle that seems to have been created to suggest exactly the opposite: that Obama is an elitist who has no concern for, or understanding of, the things that have been causing Americans to suffer over the last decade. Thus does the manufactured spectacle of media coverage attempt to convert the one Presidential candidate with a background as community organizer and advocate for everyday people into an elitist. And who, we may ask, are the ones who are most likely to benefit from such distortions of the truth?

In order to deflate such manufactured distortions of reality, it would be nice if bloggers and the media would take up the challenge of serving their proper critical function in a democracy, by drawing the attention of the public back to what is really at stake in the current political campaign and this new incident of distortion. One excellent way of doing this would be to recall the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in response to similar attempts to silence and distort his message of change. King refused to be silent when he was criticized for daring to challenge the negative aspects of American reality that kept all Americans from realizing the Dream of American possibility. And King was called not simply an elitist, but an “extremist,” for advocating his message of change.

In 1963, when Dr. King was confronted by an organized group of mostly white church leaders who questioned the validity and wisdom of his nonviolent tactics for confronting racial segregation head-on in Birmingham, Alabama, King responded with his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" (April 16, 1963). As we approach the 45th anniversary of this inspiring letter, we should note how it continues to ring with words and ideas prophetically relevant to any true attempt to begin a "national conversation on race."

Dr. King's Birmingham letter also reminds us how representatives of the status quo naturally seek to disguise their attempts to silence challenges to their power by representing themselves as defenders of tradition and “the people” against unwise, elitist and even extremist “outsiders” who would dare to criticize the present order of things.

King provided a clear and direct response to those who suggested that leaders of the civil rights movement were unpatriotic because they criticized the current structures of power and poverty in the country. King’s response provides a telling lesson for all who would today try to label Obama an “elitist” because he dares to suggest that the current structures of economic policy, power, and privilege are bringing bitterness to the lives of many Americans across the country (not just in Pennsylvania and Indiana).

Is it any surprise that Obama should be attacked by millionaires as an elitist at the very moment when it is becoming clear that his critical message of change is connecting with a majority of Americans?! Is it any surprise that Obama should be attacked as an elitist when it has become clear that his campaign consistently refuses to say that hard-working Americans should be asked to “wait” any longer to have their concerns and interests addressed?!

If the media really wants to contribute light rather than distracting heat to debates over what truly differentiates the presidential candidates, we challenge the media and other bloggers to draw attention to the exemplary power and lessons of King’s words for this year’s campaign. We challenge the media to use King’s words to draw attention to the real substance of what is at stake in the current election: Which candidate will be successful at redefining the character of this country? Which candidate will provide the kind of inspiration that will allow us to lead this country to a democratic future of well-being for all people?

King begins his letter by noting that his approach to change was being criticized by white church leaders as “unwise and untimely,” while he was also being painted as an “outsider coming in.” Critiques of King suggested he was not simply an “outsider,” but a very educated, well-spoken, and eloquent “outsider”—and attacked him as, in essence, a black “elitist” coming into a city like Birmingham to challenge and change the unjust structures of white power. Instead of responding directly to King’s challenge, white church leaders tried to change the subject by accusing King of being an unwise outsider who had no business involving himself in efforts to change the status quo.

This was the basic strategy of attacks directed at the entire civil rights movement throughout its insurgent history. And this remains the distracting strategy of many in power who wish to retain it by resisting change, as King noted: “Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.”

In writing these words, King no doubt had in his mind the words of another deeply eloquent black civil rights and antislavery leader from the nineteenth century: In 1857, before the bloody Civil War finally abolished slavery and won a partial victory for African-American civil rights, Frederick Douglass spoke words that remain as true today as they have ever been (and I’m sure Douglass was also called an elitist for daring to criticize the system of slavery and the structures of national power that supported it):

“Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. . . . If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

In the great and eloquent tradition of Douglass and the long African-American struggle for civil rights that came after him (and made King’s struggle possible), King’s response to those who would have silenced him embodied the greatness of this critical tradition of struggle, while also referencing some of the greatest wisdom from the mid-twentieth century. Without any access to books, he filled his letter from jail with references not only to the Bible and the prophets and civil rights leaders of the past, but to some of the greatest theologians and thinkers of his own era, including Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, and the poet T.S. Eliot--

And King’s response to the basic claim that he was an outsider who had no business interfering with the way of things in Birmingham was cuttingly direct in order to slice through the obfuscation of attempts to divert attention from the central issue of INJUSTICE—

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. . . . Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

Certainly this passage from King is more relevant to understanding what is truly at stake in attempts to paint Obama as an “elitist” today: Building on prior attempts to paint Obama as an outsider with foreign roots, a strange name, and to suggest he has an “extremist” background (through tactics of excerpting decontextualized snippets of speeches from his pastor), the Clinton campaign (and then the McCain campaign, which has been delighted to follow the Clinton lead on these attacks) has avoided any mention of its privileged background (the Clintons were both educated at elite ivy league schools, and have millionaire incomes) in order to try to paint Obama as an elitist!

Instead of blindly reiterating whatever the Clinton and McCain campaigns might like to say about Obama, is it too much to hope that the media could be a bit more creative and actually develop its own critical perspective on what is happening with this manufactured and staged debate? And perhaps both the media and the Obama campaign could learn some important lessons from looking carefully at the way King responded to attempts to silence him:

1) Instead of allowing those who accused him of being unpatriotic or “extremist” to deflect him from offering direct criticisms of his country’s unjust policies, King transformed attempts to silence him into opportunities to further his critical message:

“I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”

2) To calls for him and the civil rights movement to wait or slow down its push for change, King replied: For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ …This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’ We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights.”

3) And to the charge that Obama should silence any references to the “bitterness” of the experience of poverty and deprivation caused in this country by the unwise and unjust policies of the past, perhaps we can all learn something especially important from the way King responded--

Instead of turning away from such criticisms, King emphasized how the bitter experience of his “brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society,” along with the sense that “you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’," made it impossible for the civil rights movement to wait any longer. “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.” Instead of cooling his criticisms in response to such attacks upon him, King used his Birmingham letter to insist on the movement’s “legitimate and unavoidable impatience,” and the justice of its calls for immediate change:

In emphasizing the immediate necessity of the movement for change, King was not addressing this letter to the racists of the Ku Klux Klan or the White Citizen’s Council, but to the “white moderates” who by their inaction in the face of injustice showed that they were “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” King argued that moderate whites who preferred “a negative peace [in] the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice” had become a “great stumbling block” to the struggle for freedom.

King criticized moderates for believing that they could “paternalistically . . . set the timetable for another man's freedom,” and for living “by a mythical concept of time” that fundamentally misrepresented the relationship between social struggle and social change. This passage from King’s 1963 letter is worth quoting in its entirety because of its direct relevance to the campaign debates of 2008:

“I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: ‘All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.’ Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”

4) And to the accusation that he, Rev. King, was an extremist, he replied:

“Though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’ Was not [the prophet] Amos an extremist for justice: ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.’ …So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? …Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

“I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.”

This was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1963! So if you want to attack Rev. Wright for being extremist for his criticisms of the unjust policies of the United States, you will have to attack Reverend King as well! And we must ask of all Americans, “Do you hear your own prophets, O America?! Do you understand the words of your own Declaration of Independence?!

And lest the media think that opening up a “conversation about race” can be an easy thing accomplished in a 90-minute episode of MSNBC, we should pay attention again to the words from Dr. King’s 1963 letter:

“Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

In 1963 King excoriated the lack of courage of the majority of the religious status quo, for failing to actively support the freedom and anti-poverty struggles:

“When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church… Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

“In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. …. [But instead] So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.”

But King did not end his letter from the Birmingham Jail on a note of despair. He always tried to frame his critiques within his greater message of creative challenge and critical hope. And this hope was not an unfounded hope because it was based in the history and example of the entire tradition of African-American struggle, perseverance, and victory in the face of the cruelest adversity:

“One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”

May we all hope that in 2008, as this campaign progresses toward the November election, that the media will help the candidates and all of us to focus ever more directly on the real issues facing this country and the world: the threats of global warming and the savage inequalities caused by the persistent structures of poverty and war, and the dire need for change in policies that continue to reproduce structures of power so detrimental to the well-being of all humanity.

And may we hope that the media will live up to the democratic challenge of holding themselves and our candidates accountable for addressing these real issues in the campaign? Or should we give up hope and expect that the media will only continue to provide aid and comfort to the structures of power that prefer to manufacture superficial controversies in order to distract us from confronting the real issues of power that will determine the future of us all?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

President Bush's Historical Legacy, & What He Can Do to Improve It, Including an Open Appeal to President Bush, for the Sake of the Future

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, President Bush has been spending some time discussing and contemplating his historical legacy. This article paints a picture of Bush as paradoxically both a sadly isolated and yet spiritually serene man, who takes refuge in his faith that he is "doing the Lord's work," even while he struggles to understand the burdens of his historical situation, and the shadow his presidential legacy will pass on to the future. For the sake of us all, and for the sake of this President's historical legacy, I sincerely hope he has not already reconciled himself to simply continuing the disastrous course he is on.

Although time is increasingly short, he still has more than twelve months to chart a dramatic turn-around and change of policy, if only he is willing to summon the spiritual will to admit the severe mistakes of his past course of policy, and summon the best minds to his side to chart out an alternative course to address the massive policy challenges related to global warming, poverty, and war that will otherwise be his administration's dark legacy to the future.
Amid the tumult, the president has sought refuge in history. He read three books last year on George Washington, read about the Algerian war of independence and the exploitation of Congo, and lately has been digging into "Troublesome Young Men," Lynne Olson's account of Conservative backbenchers who thrust Winston Churchill to power. Bush idolizes Churchill and keeps a bust of him in the Oval Office.
But I wonder if any of the sages, and especially the historians and philosophers, who have met with Bush have really challenged him to confront the most fundamentally destructive aspects of the legacy his Presidency will pass on to the future of this country, its people, and the world--a legacy that consists of:
  • greatly increased violence as a result of the massive destabilization of the Middle East caused by the ill-considered and poorly planned imperial adventure to "save" Iraq and promote democracy abroad with little understanding of how such imperial adventures work instead to destroy the chances of democratic development abroad and undermine democracy at home in the US (because of the costs and pressures of war that undermine truth and trust in government and the fundamental institutions of society).
  • a legacy of perpetual war and massive military spending that is wasting billions of dollars a month in Iraq that could have been used to address many of the major domestic social problems in the US that a truly "compassionate conservatism" would have addressed: poverty, collapsing infrastructure (getting so bad that major bridges, like the one in Minneapolis, are beginning to collapse), Social Security, Public Health.
  • An entire decade of missed opportunities and precious time lost for addressing the crisis of global warming, which by itself may quickly become the darkest legacy of this President, through his inaction, as the toll of catastrophic climate change begins quickly to mount in the decade ahead.
Indeed, the inaction and interference of the Bush regime in global efforts to begin to address global climate change in the first decade of the 21st century may, within the next decade, become the foundation of the harshest historical judgments of all on an administration that may come to be blamed for inaction during the most critical decade for turning the tide on global warming.

Instead of taking up the noble and necessary battles against global warming and global poverty and disease, the Bush administration chose to waste this country's great resources, energy, and vital life and blood on a fruitless and ill-considered foreign crusade, corrupted by war profiteering and incompetence.

Is this the Historical Legacy the Bush administration wishes to pass on to posterity, for all to remember it by?

If Bush seeks a more positive legacy, he now has less than 18 months to chart out some dramatic changes of course, by first openly admitting the terrible mistakes of the past, coming clean with the American public about those terrible and fundamental mistakes of historical judgment and hubris, and in all humility before God and his fellow humanity, demonstrating in the time remaining to him that he has truly repented of his past errors and wishes to begin to make amends for the mistakes of the past by charting a new course into the future.

And if he truly wishes to salvage his historical legacy, so that future historians will be able to write that he at least finally came to admit the error of his ways, and began to pave the way to a dramatic change of course for the next administrations after him, then the way for him to begin is to make dramatic changes of course in three policy areas that will most dramatically shape his historical legacy: war, poverty (the dramatically increased gap between rich and poor, and the destruction of the middle class), and climate change:
  • On climate change, President Bush should declare his intention to work with Congress to pass, before the end of his presidency, the most dramatic change in the country's energy, environmental, and climate policies, to reduce global warming emissions by a minimum of 80% by 2050, and to dramatically increase fuel efficiency standards of US-produced autos by requiring that the fleet of new US autos produced in 2018 achieve at least 40 mpg avg fuel economy, and provide government investments to guarantee that major US auto manufacturers are able to introduce affordable plug-in hybrids for sale by no later than 2012.
  • On the war, President Bush should admit that the whole strategy for intervening in Iraq was fundamentally misconceived, and clearly declare and commit the country's best diplomatic resources to working with ALL the countries in the region to negotiate a region-wide settlement of the Iraqi conflict, to be policed by the countries of the region in collaboration with the best leadership of the UN, with full support and funding by the US. If the US could spend billions of dollars a month on an ill-planned war strategy in Iraq, it should now commit itself to spending at least 10% of that to support a diplomacy-driven strategy of regional cooperation and settlement that funds the UN to take leadership and play the role it should have been allowed to play from the beginning.
  • On poverty and the rising gap between rich and poor in the United States, as a result of the decimation of the middle class through the loss of middle-income jobs, the President can reverse course and begin to build a brighter legacy for the future by reversing his strategy of tax cuts for the rich, which have placed ever greater financial burdens on the middle classes of people. He can chart a dramatic reversal of policy by declaring his intention to support the Democratic Congress in a campaign to bring back greatly increased rates of progressive income taxes on both the salaries and the investment incomes of the wealthy who earn over $300,000 a year.
If President Bush truly wishes to bring light to the dark shadows that the legacy of his first six and a half years in office are already casting over the future, he can begin to change how he will be remembered by making dramatic alterations in his policy in each of the three areas noted above, while also committing himself to getting rid of the most secretive and civil liberty-destroying aspects of the PATRIOT Act.

On the other hand, if President Bush wishes to guarantee that history will view him as one of, if not the, worst Presidents in the history of the country, then all he needs to do is continue on the path he has already charted for himself, believing against all evidence to the contrary that he has been "doing the Lord's work." If he wishes to persist in that terrible delusion, he is of course free to do so, and the supine Congress will probably allow him to get away with it for another sixteen months, with what dire consequences for the country and the world we can still only imagine. But if the past is prologue, chances are things will only continue to get even worse, if the President continues in his current direction. And this Legacy may grow even darker than we can yet imagine.

An Open Appeal to the President of the United States

So, dear President Bush, I appeal to you, for the sake of this country, for the sake of democracy, for the sake of the future of the world, as well as your own historical legacy: If you really care about not only your own historical legacy, but about the kind of world you will be passing on to the next generations of this country's children, please make dramatic changes in your present course of policy.

Would you not like the children of the future in their history classes to be able to learn of President Bush, that he had the courage in his last year of office to admit his mistakes and to begin to pave the path that would allow the United States to begin to pick itself up from the terrible missteps it took after 9/11, and to rise to the great challenges of global cooperative leadership that the world would require of the United States in order to help it to address the great twenty-first century problems of global warming, terrorism, poverty, and disease?

Would you not hope that this is what the future will be able to write of you? Or would you rather force future historians to write of you that instead of changing course even when almost everyone told you the country was headed in the wrong direction, that you stubbornly persisted on a path that drove the country ever deeper into chaos and left the next several administrations after him burdened with dealing with the disastrous impacts of terribly failed policies on both the domestic and international fronts, so much so that the United States was never able to recover its former respected role of leadership in the world of nations?

Which destiny will you write for yourself, Mr. President? The answer is up to you: Only you can change the history that will be written about you, and however much you might try to hide the real history of your past administration, you should know that the mere evidence of your administration's efforts to hide the facts of the history of the present from future historians will be enough to condemn and convict you in their eyes.

For history, in the end, is about truth before humanity and the Eternal; and this Truth will not be denied. It cannot be hidden; it cannot be refuted; it cannot be subverted or silenced. It will out in the end. So the only way to alter the truth of the history of your administration and its legacy is by changing the nature of its truth--by dramatically admitting the errors of its previous policy, and fundamentally changing its policies to address the growing crises of poverty, disease, climate change, and perpetual war (including terrorism).

Again, Mr. President, the choice is yours, for better or worse--for the sake of this country, its people, and the fate of the world, as well as your historical legacy. The choice is yours, and I hope for the sake of us all that you will make the right one--



Tip of the Iceberg: The Coming Great Extinction

While the President of the US (our own contemporary Nero) fiddles, and Policymakers in the US Congress tinker, catastrophic changes in global climate are already beginning to manifest themselves in a year of unprecedented fires and floods across the globe. How much longer will the United States Congress and the people of this country wait before demanding dramatic policy changes to begin to reverse the dramatic increases in global temperatures that within this century may threaten humanity itself with extinction?!

Unless we act NOW, and dramatically reduce global warming gas emissions, recent scientific evidence indicates we may (in a tragic drama of global proportions) be driving ourselves and most of the rest of the planet's species toward global extinction within a century.

There is evidence we have already entered a period of greatly increasing rates of species extinction.

But there is evidence from a major extinction of the past that if the earth's climate rises another 6 degrees (which could happen within this century unless we dramatically reduce our production of global warming gasses), 90% of the species existing on earth, including human beings, could be pushed to extinction.

The Sixth Mass Extinction

Running Out of Time for Action to Prevent Catastrophic Effects of Global Climate Change

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability"

The time for dramatic policy action is NOW--not in 2010 or 2020, by which time it will be too late to reverse the tide of catastrophic change.

Fortunately, there are many good ideas and plans being developed to address this global crisis. But none of these good ideas and plans will be implemented
unless the democratic peoples of the world rise up to demand that their politicians and governments act dramatically to change their environmental and industrial policies in fundamental ways, in line with the best scientific thinking and planning to mitigate the effects of global climate change.

We, the democratic peoples of the world, must bring about that change now, or stand tragic witness to our own generation's responsibility for the coming mass extinction, which will be inflicted by our own inaction on our children and grandchildren (who may be the last human generation).

Friday, August 11, 2006

It's Time for a Transformation of US Policy in Iraq

Tom Hayden's recent web-post for The Nation (August 9), titled "Iraq is Dying," suggests all the reasons why US intervention in Iraq may now be doing so much more harm than good to the people of Iraq, and to the credibility of the United States around the world, and especially in the Islamic world.

And in case US political leaders of both parties have not yet recognized the writing on the wall for the best way to fight terrorism, here it is:

The strongest way to fight terrorism is to create a credible foreign policy that understands, respects, and treats the Islamic world as a partner in building a more peaceful and just future for all people.

This is the best and strongest policy for marginalizing terrorists over the long run. The current Bush policy agenda of violence and war, rather than of smart negotiation and committed collaboration and partnership-building, is producing terrorists and increasing the terrorist threat, rather than decreasing it. And over the long run, such policy will produce disaster on all sides. The only way out of this disastrous policy mess is a fundamental transformation of policy that recognizes the greatest strength in foreign policy comes from smart and committed collaboration and negotiation to build trust around principles of common humanity and justice.

And the best way to "defeat" terrorism over the short and long run is to stop treating "terror" as a cause and rationale for war (as President Bush did once again yesterday in his response to news of the successful British defeat of terrorism, which came not through war, but through strategic intelligence), and to start treating it as a long-term problem that needs to be addressed through strategic economic, social, and political programs that build solidarities with the Islamic peoples of the world, and invite them to join with us in building together a just world for all, without the imperial pretention that the US can dictate to the rest of the world how that future should be achieved.

(The British were able to detect and prevent a major terrorist plot because they have been using human intelligence to build collaborative partnerships and use strategic intelligence to defeat specific acts of terrorism, rather than to fight an ill-defined "war" on terrorism.)

But as we are seeing in the Middle-East, in spite of the so-called US "war on terror," the fever of war and its terrorizing violence is spreading (all war is terror!--especially in the age of 21st-century weapons!), and unless the people of the world, and especially the people of the US, demand a major change in their government's strategies and policies, this violence will continue to spread. A foreign policy that puts violence and war first, as the way to accomplish foreign policy objectives, ends up looking a lot like terrorism itself, and ends up producing more violence and chaos than it can ever hope to deal with effectively. The end-game, without a major turn in policy, will be disaster not only for the Iraqis, but for the people of the US, as violence increases in the Middle-East, and the US government sends in more of our soldiers to try to deal with it, and to die battling an unwinnable conflict.

And in the mean time all the other major problems that so urgently need to be addressed, such as global warming and the energy crisis, will continue to be ignored by a US federal government "governed" by war.

As Tom Hayden mentions in his report, one of the few signs of real hope for such a turn is the delegation of US citizens from CodePink that was invited to meet with leading members of the Iraqi Parliament over this past week (for a great blog describing the experience of one of the people on this delegation, read this diary posted on Daily Kos (Aug. 6), by JeeniCriscenzo). Tom Hayden was one of the members of this peace delegation, and wrote his piece for The Nation after participating in two days of discussions with the Iraqis in Jordan at what he called "an unprecedented meeting initiated by Code Pink and attended by Cindy Sheehan and a smattering of peace activists that included Iraq Veterans Against the War and United for Peace and Justice." He continues:
That so many Iraqi representatives wanted to meet with antiwar Americans was a hopeful sign. Attending were official representatives of the Shiite coalition now holding power, the minority Sunni bloc, the anti-occupation Muslim Scholars Association, parliamentarians and torture victims from Abu Ghraib. Their broad consensus favored a specific timetable for American withdrawal combined with efforts to "fix the problems" of the occupation as the withdrawal proceeds. Recent surveys show that 87 percent of Iraqis hold the same views.

The qualified Iraqi demands for withdrawal reflect the virtual civil war that has arisen in the wake of the US occupation. Like victims of repeated battery, many Sunnis fear escalating attacks on their civilian population if the streets are dominated by the Badr militia after the Americans leave. They feel pressured by the Americans to abandon their aspirations for a unified Iraqi state, accept minority status in a partitioned country, or join as partners with their American occupiers to fight against pro-Iranian or Al Qaeda forces in Iraq.
The current tragic US "adventure" in Iraq should be understood within the much larger historical context of US intervention that Steven Kinzer has nicely explored in his recent book Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (see interview with Kinzer on Democracy Now here), and in his earlier book, All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (2003). Only by combining historical understanding with democratic political vision and a commitment to reconstructing US policy in a way that respects and pays more attention to the voices and vision of US and Iraqi citizens, than it pays to war hawks and profiteers, will the US ever find an "honorable" way out of this tragic interventionary war.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Progressive Democratic Vision is the New Center of Strength for a Secure and Sustainable Future for All

From New Democratic Agenda:

Republicans (and Republican fellow travelers, such as Lieberman has become) immediately sought to salve their fears about the rising tide of progressive democratic politics symbolized by the Lamont victory in Connecticut by resorting to Orwellian doublespeak that sought to turn new democratic signs of strength into weakness.

Instead of recognizing what the Lamont victory clearly represents--the growing strength of a progressive democratic resurgence in this country that has clear ideas about how to build a strong America by taking our government back from the corporate sycophants in Congress who have been systematically destroying and continually weakening our country, the Republicans would like to deflect attention from their own terrible weakness and failures of policy by Orwellian games of language that deny the reality of democratic strength.

Too bad for them. Because the more Republicans ignore reality and retreat into their Orwellian logic of doublethink--which does nothing to change the realities on the ground--the more disastrous will be the consequences of their policy failures for families in this country and around the globe who seek to live in stable and prosperous communities.

Because progressive democrats champion policies that build an environment for strong, stable, and prosperous communities, it is democrats who now represent the party of strength and true security for American citizens and families. Meanwhile, the Republicans continue to defend and retreat into an Orwellian fantasy-world that seems to celebrate ever-growing levels of counter-violence and destabilization in the name of a so-called "war on terror" where anything seems to be permissable in the name of the weird language and fantasies of "Homeland Security" (even while the real victims of Katrina, of poor health care, of uninsurance, and of poverty and disease, continue to suffer from tremendous ongoing failures of on-the-ground response within our own country).

And this ongoing disaster is what Republicans now seem to call strength and "staying the course."
Unfortunately, reality on the ground declares otherwise. As we are seeing more and more vividly, at the price of an ever-growing toll of death and destruction: "Staying the course" of a failed policy vision and strategy is staying the course to disaster.

So if we want a definition of strength and strong policy that will lead us to somewhere other than disaster, we now need to look elsewhere, and demand that every person we put into office this November will represent our public interests--and demonstrate clearly that they have the ability and the commitment to understanding strength in ways that will benefit rather than harm the public interests of the people of this country and the rest of the world.

As Robert Borosage, of the Campaign for America's Future, has written:
[Lamont's] victory represents a growing voter revolt against the failed policies and politics of the Bush administration and its congressional enablers, particularly the debacle in Iraq. Until a few weeks ago, Lieberman prided himself on being the president's leading Democratic ally in touting the war. After his defeat, Democrats will show more backbone in challenging the current disastrous course and more Republicans will look for ways to distance themselves from the president.

Lamont's victory was propelled by a rising tide of progressive energy—activists who are tired of losing elections to the right and disgusted with cautious politicians who duck and cover rather than stand and fight. Until a few weeks ago, Lieberman exemplified those Democrats who establish their "independence" by pushing off the causes of their own party and embracing the right's agenda. His voters didn't abandon him; he abandoned them long ago. After his defeat, incumbents in both parties may begin to listen more closely to their voters and less avidly to their donors.
(To read more from Borosage, click here)

In an increasingly insecure and violent world, as represented by today's disrupted terror plot, we need political leaders and representatives who will fight for the interests of everyday citizens and families. We need politicians who will not allow corporate money and influence, and the seductions of war profiteering, to distract them from the primary responsibility of promoting policies that immediately begin to build stable and sustainable communities. In a turbulent world, such policy-building will require strong democratic policy vision and the commitment to fight for the common democratic interests of all citizens against the profiteering and exploitation of the many by the few.

It's time for a new progressive democratic politics, and new progressive policymaking vision in this country, and the Lamont primary victory is a clear sign the citizens of this country are organizing to take their government and their country back from those who have been exploiting both for their own narrow profits--to the harm of democracy everywhere.

So to all who would resort to Orwellian doublethink to twist the Lamont victory into a sign of democratic weakness or leftist extremism, we have this to say in return: It's time to wake up from your delusion and face reality. Progressive democracy is the new center of strength for a secure and sustainable future for all, and it is organizing today to win the future back from those who seek to exploit the many and weaken democracy everywhere for the profit of the few.

Wealth spent in the struggle to strengthen the public good and secure the advantages of true participatory democracy for all is wealth well-spent. But wealth spent in the pursuit of making the wealthy more wealthy and powerful while everyone else is allowed to suffer the consequences of this betrayal of the commonwealth, is also a fundamental betrayal of democracy here at home and abroad.

If Lamont's victory is a sign of how progressive citizens across this country, from the poorest to the wealthiest, are learning to invest and organize their resources to take back their government from those who would use wealth and power irresponsibly to betray the public interest, then this victory is a tremendous and hopeful sign of the growing strength and vitality of progressive vision and politics in this country. Because we are the people, and we are the democratic many, we do not need to remain the victims of those who would exploit our tax dollars, our soldiers' lives, and our environmental futures, for private profit. Through organizing our public power, we can take our government back for the good of democracy everywhere.

Because Lamont's primary victory is only a first step, however, and by no means guarantees a progressive Senate victory in November (since Lieberman has declared he will fight Lamont all the way to election day), we need to continue to organize our wealth of resources--financial, but especially our intellectual and imaginative resources--to create a new politics and a new policymaking vision for this country. Such vision and political power will be necessary not only to support the victory of a progressive Connecticut senator, but to make sure that Senator Lamont will have many other progressive colleagues to work with him in the halls of Congress, and that outside these halls each progressive Senator or Representative will know they have a strong network of public support and vibrant energy to back up their struggles to create and implement progressive policies in the halls of Congress in the years ahead.

Getting progressive candidates elected is a necessary first step, but then we need to make sure we give them the tools and the power they need to create and implement the new progressive policies that are so desperately needed to address the tremendous challenges of global warming, poverty, disease, and growing violence that now (thanks in part to the tragically misdefined understanding of "strength" that has defined Republican policy) face all of us in the twenty-first century.