Monday, December 15, 2008

Senator Caroline Kennedy? Not My Choice

The media is reporting that Caroline Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy’s daughter, has expressed an interest in the U.S. Senate seat that Hillary Clinton will give up after her confirmation as Secretary of State. The New York Times reported on December 5, 2008 that her cousin, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. stated that he believed she was considering it, based upon conversations with her. And Governor David A. Paterson, who will have the authority to select Hillary’s replacement, reported that Caroline had called him on Wednesday, December 3, to discuss the matter. Today’s N.Y. Times (Dec 15) reports that she has decided to pursue the seat.

I do not believe Caroline Kennedy should be appointed to the U.S. Senate. I do not believe she has the life experiences or has shown the temperament to assume such a high office and position of responsibility. I admit that I have not followed Caroline’s life, partly because I have had no interest in doing so and partly because Caroline has sought to live a very private life for many years. Surely that was her choice and I do not begrudge here having made it but to now wish to become a United States Senator is a stretch. Her brother seemed to have a real interest in politics and involved himself in the public arena. Sadly, he died in a plane crash before he was able to pursue elected public office. But Caroline Kennedy? Exactly why is she qualified? She apparently has been active in fundraising for the public school system in New York City and has engaged in other charitable undertakings but until she emerged as a supporter of Barack Obama her political life has been abysmally lacking.

I was in my late teens in college in the Boston area when Ted Kennedy first ran for the U.S. Senate in 1962 at age 30. As I recall, Kennedy, lacking any meaningful political experience, campaigned on the slogan “I can do more for Massachusetts,” clearly pitched toward the fact that his brother had recently become President. The opposition contended that, had Edward Moore Kennedy’s name merely been Edward Moore, no one would have given him the time of day as far as seeking a Senate seat.

Unfortunately, I feel similarly in my opposition to Caroline Kennedy as a Senator. Were her name simply Caroline Schlossberg, her married name, who would think she was qualified to emerge into public life as a U.S. Senator? Yes, she has been involved in some activities of a public character and she did write an editorial in support of Barack Obama and played some role on his vice-presidential selection committee. But I’m not aware that she has been actively involved in the political process in the past.

There may be those who say that, using the above standards, Hillary Clinton lacked the experience to run for U.S. Senate. But, I disagree. First, she ran for the position; she did not seek an appointment. Even Ted Kennedy ran for office in 1962. Second, Hillary Clinton spent eight years in the White House as First Lady and was actively involved in various political struggles, most notably medical care reform. Whether one respected her for those efforts or not, she was not a private person who kept her distance from the hue and cry of American politics. In that same vein, were Maria Shriver to seek an appointment to the U.S. Senate or some other high political office, I might not support her but it wouldn’t be for the reasons I oppose Caroline Kennedy’s appointment. I acknowledge that others have sought high elective office without an obvious “political” background. But most, including Ronald Reagan when he sought the position of California Governor, have been far more involved in American politics and the political process, if even as commentators, than is the case with Caroline.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Congratulations, President-Elect Obama! Now Comes Governing‼

This has been an historic election. There can be no question about that. The election of our first African-American President is a profound event. Despite this country’s greatness, its highest office had remained until November 4, 2008, the exclusive province of white men. That has now changed forever and most Americans, even many who did not vote for Obama, feel a definite pride in our having selected Obama to hold the highest office in the land.

But, while not wanting to rain on anyone’s parade, let’s not think that this election changes everything. I’ve read the comments of many comparing this election to that of John Kennedy in 1960 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Kennedy, Reagan and now Obama have been described as transformational figures. It is true that Kennedy’s triumph, like Obama’s, represented the rise to political power of a new generation, a typically refreshing event even if scary to older voters. And Reagan’s triumph, like Obama’s, occurred during a period of great societal anxiety, reflected in 1980 by the Iran hostage nightmare and in 2008 by two ongoing wars and an economic meltdown, with a nation’s hope that the new president would heal America’s wounds.

Let us not, however, overstate the extent to which Kennedy or Reagan was a truly transformational figure. Kennedy was confronted by the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban missile crisis, and turmoil in the area of civil rights that he did not live to address. Indeed, he hardly lived long enough as president to transform very much although the imagery of Camelot long survived his untimely death. And Reagan, while he has remained the darling of the Republican Party through the present, and did lift American spirits for a time, and held office during the collapse of the Soviet Union as a geopolitical empire for which his admirers give him supreme credit, also left a legacy of massive budget deficits, scandal, political and social divisiveness in the country, and the emergence of an international arena devoid of the relative stability of a bipolar world and increasingly characterized by regional instability and world terrorism.

And then there are the sentiments about Obama’s victory of the polemicist Michael Moore, who seems prepared to treat it almost as if it is the second coming. Moore wrote: “An African American has been elected President of the United States! Anything is possible! We can wrestle our economy out of the hands of the reckless rich and return it to the people. Anything is possible! Every citizen can be guaranteed health care. Anything is possible! We can stop melting the polar ice caps. Anything is possible! Those who have committed war crimes will be brought to justice. Anything is possible.”

But let us step back into reality. On a day on which many foreign leaders and common folk throughout the world celebrated Obama’s victory, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russia would deploy a short range missile system on Russian territory bordering Poland and Lithuania. Afghan President Karzai, who had been rebuked by Obama during his world tour over his weak governance of Afghanistan, was perhaps responding in kind by mixing congratulations with a call for an end to American airstrikes that threatened civilian casualties in his country. And Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, who aspires to become prime minister, warned that Obama’s stated readiness to talk with Iran could be seen in the Middle East as a sign of weakness. Welcome to the world stage, President-elect Obama!

Meanwhile, the buzz in Washington, D.C. over possible presidential Cabinet appointments involves the names not of fresh faces but of many of the same old retreads. Apparently according to NBC News, among the names in the mix for secretary of state are those of Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry, who is purportedly angling for the post, former diplomat Richard Holbrooke, outgoing Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel and former Georgia Democratic senator Sam Nunn. Purportedly, Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker are among those being considered for the Treasury post.

Barack Obama, who has shown himself to be a cool, calm, astute politician, smartly sought to damp down expectations for his presidency during his acceptance speech on Tuesday night in Chicago. He said:

"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.

"I promise you - we as a people will get there. There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. …

"What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you."

Issues of immigration reform, health care, energy independence, the growing costs of Medicare and Social Security, let alone the current world wide economic collapse and growing national recession, the related housing crisis, global warming, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and homeland security, remain front and center. Not only are solutions to these issues not readily at hand, but there is no national consensus and there are deep political divisions on the nature of possible solutions to many of them.

One of my criticisms of Obama during the primary season, when I supported Hillary Clinton, was that he spoke majestically of unity, transcending red and blue state divisions, breaking political gridlock in Washington, D.C., and of bringing conflicting interests in American society together, but he offered few insights on how to accomplish those objectives. He will now have to focus on offering concrete solutions to many of these heretofore intractable problems and building successful coalitions to achieve them, as well as using the bully pulpit to attempt to forge a new national unity to the extent possible, while recognizing and accepting that a vibrant, strong, resilient America in which its people are able to enjoy freedom and equality is by its nature a pluralistic society comprising many competing and conflicting social networks and institutions and interest groups.

I’m very excited by Obama’s victory and am elated to have had the opportunity to vote for him for President. Let us, however, balance our excitement and optimism with a strong dose of reality in recognizing that change is an ongoing process, not all change is beneficial, altering the status quo is usually far more difficult than preserving it, and that President-elect Barack Obama, while enormously gifted, is not a magician but a political leader who no doubt shares many of the same human limitations that affect us all.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Obama - Grace under Pressure

Which candidate, McCain or Obama, do I trust more to carefully handle an international “incident” and not overreact? Obama.

Tom Bevan of Real Clear Politics - posed that question this morning in the below post. He invited email responses and I sent him mine, which appears below his blog.

Posted by Tom Bevan at 08:09 AM | Email | Print | Permalink

About That Crisis

Joe Biden's recent comment about a "generated crisis" to test Barack Obama's mettle brings to mind a counterintuitive thought I've been nursing for a while. If, God forbid, there is a terrorist attack on the United States during the next four years, could it be the case that the hot headed and erratic John McCain would be the more measured in his response and that the preternaturally calm and cool Mr. Obama might be pressured into reacting rashly and imprudently?

Fair or not, as he takes control of managing two wars in a post-9/11 world, Obama will carry with him to the White House the generic public perception of Democrats being soft on national security. Should a national security crisis arise, especially at or near the beginning of his administration, Obama would be under immense, almost unimaginable pressure to respond - and respond forcefully.

McCain would face pressure, too, but one could argue that because he has such strong bona fides on national security and more public trust to handle an international crisis, McCain would have greater latitude and flexibility in crafting a response.
Put another way, if there is an attack on America Obama might be pressured into proving his "toughness," which is something McCain wouldn't necessarily have to do.

Agree or disagree? Email me.


I’m a 65 year old, white, Jewish professional originally from New York City but a Californian since 1969. I’m also a lifelong Democrat, liberal but not as much as when I was younger. I give you the demographics so you may put my comments in some perspective.

I used to have more respect for McCain and in 2000 I thought he might be an interesting candidate. But no more. He has proven himself to be erratic and unreliable. I think Joe Klein, in his TIME piece on Sept 4, 2008, “How McCain Makes Obama Conservative,” captured the essence of the candidates.

No, I don’t believe that Obama would prove the more intemperate. Quite the opposite. I understand the “logic” you offer but I don’t think it holds.

First, I think way too much has been made of McCain’s national security experience. Exactly what does it comprise? We know his immature, daredevil activities as a young pilot. We know he reached no serious leadership position in the Navy, unlike his father. He certainly endured years of torture as a POW and for that we all respect and admire him. But he has never been in the Executive Branch. His experience is as a Senator taking positions on this issue and that. I agreed with some of his positions (criticism of Reagan’s dispatch of Marines to Lebanon; support for the first Gulf War; support for Clinton’s activities in the former Yugoslavia). But I don’t see the fact that he took such positions as terribly impressive evidence that he has national security experience. I think of such experience as that accumulated by those making the decisions, be it secretaries of state or defense, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, obviously the President and, at least in the Bush Administration, the Vice President (whether in the public interest or not) and likely others. But not necessarily some U.S. Senator who has supported certain policies. And while McCain’s advocacy for the surge may have turned out to be helpful, his advocacy for the Iraq War was not.

I may be wrong, Tom, and the events are current enough for you to know the facts well, but, as I recall, when Russia invaded Georgia McCain seemed almost ready to pull the trigger, so to speak. Indeed, I believe he was critical of Obama for first suggesting caution. It is true that Obama came to also take a “strong” stand against the Russians and in support of Georgia, but I was more frightened or at least concerned at the outset by McCain’s bellicosity. I admit I’m one of those who thinks the U.S. has to tread carefully in seeking to include in NATO countries that Russia has historically considered buffers between itself and Europe (Germany most of all). Yes, I would like to keep Georgia and Ukraine from falling back under Russian domination but all the talk of including them in NATO is more provocative than I think the U.S. needs to be at this instance. I think McCain has a more aggressive bent toward Russia. I know you and others could argue that a more aggressive bent may cause Russia to back off but I’m not convinced. I think the aggressive bent toward international relations in general taken by the Bush Administration has been in part responsible for the deterioration of our relations with Russia and others.

So, I am not convinced that Obama would feel such intense pressure to show his mettle in the early days of his Administration, given his youthfulness and alleged Democratic softness on national security, that he would overreact while McCain, purportedly confident in his own skin about national security, would be calm and calculating and less likely to be unduly provocative. I think Obama has shown incredible “grace under pressure” throughout this campaign and at many moments when he could have overreacted (and I’m talking about in the campaign, not vis-à-vis foreign affairs) he has remained calm, cool and collected. I think he will be cautious, perhaps too much so for some including his liberal supporters, whether in domestic ventures or foreign affairs if he becomes President. Might I also note that I’m old enough to remember when Republicans accused Democrats of getting Americans into all the wars, not because Democrats were soft on national security but because they tended to be “internationalists” rather than isolationists, a position many Republicans used to embrace (and some, like Buchanan, still do). How the world changes as do the positions of American political parties if one lives long enough!

I initially supported Hillary Clinton and was sorry to see her lose. But I have come to respect and appreciate Obama and even to conclude that he probably has a better chance of winning the Presidency than she would have had had she won the nomination given her high negatives and his ability to stay focused, in control, and to demonstrate an even keeled temperament. I honestly trust his instincts and judgment in foreign policy and in the event of an “incident” while I’ve come to see McCain as, to quote you, hot headed and erratic.

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading.

Donald A. Newman

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Obama and Unity

When Obama emerged on top in Iowa he spoke of Unity. He would heal the divisions in this society, he would bring together disparate interests, he would transcend the blue and red state divide. He would unify the nation. Many of us were unimpressed but enough were taken by him and his rhetoric to carry him to victory over Hillary Clinton.

Now the Democratic National Convention is upon us and Obama and company are still preaching Unity. But this time it’s a plea, a prayer, not to the nation as a whole but merely to Democratic delegates to his own nominating convention to heal the rift between Obama and Hillary supporters and unite behind Obama.

How sad.

Obama may win the national elections in November. But currently, despite all factors pointing to an easy Democratic victory in November, the tracking polls have Obama and McCain running neck and neck. Obama struggled to close the deal in the primaries against Hillary. He’s having even more trouble closing the deal with the general electorate against McCain. Many, including vast numbers of Hillary supporters such as myself, continue to doubt that Obama is ready for prime time. His campaigning since Hillary withdrew has been lackluster. People continue to wonder exactly how he intends to solve the many problems facing America. While he has shown great talent in delivering soaring addresses to large masses of people, he has failed to show a talent for engaging people in small town meetings. In place of his soaring rhetoric is a delivery full of “you know”; in place of a definite cadence is a stammering delivery. The content continues to lack specificity and his flip-flopping has not helped him in developing a coherent message.

Did Democrats make the wrong choice? That’s difficult to say. Obama still is the likely winner in the November elections. And it isn’t as if Hillary Clinton had all the answers either. She failed to put together a coherent campaign strategy and embarrassed herself on a number of occasions, such as with claims to have landed under fire in Bosnia, during the campaign. Then, too, Bill Clinton proved an embarrassment on his own and caused many to fear the role he might play were she to become president, or vice president for that matter.

Nonetheless, many of us would have favored Hillary as the Democratic nominee. Her voice strengthened and her message crystallized over the course of the primaries and by the end she appeared to be the stronger candidate.

Democrats should close ranks behind Obama. But the constant complaints emanating from his campaign and from his supporters, including former Governor Wilder of Virginia, that Hillary and Bill are the main obstacles to unity are poppycock, to use a socially acceptable term. Most Hillary supporters are quite educated and informed. They are not waiting for some signal or sign from Hillary in order to support Obama. They are troubled by the campaign he is running as well as his lack of experience and are simply hesitant in their support. Ultimately most will vote for Obama. Despite McCain’s maverick label, they will see McCain as continuing too many of Bush’s policies and as a bedrock conservative when it comes to several crucial social issues.

But Obama had better get his act together, stop blaming Hillary and Bill, offer specifics to the voters on how to solve major issues now, and learn how to connect better with that so-called “average” voter, whatever the voter’s gender, age, ethnicity or race.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

An Open E-mail to David Gergen

I wrote the below e-mail to David Gergen after reading Sam Stein’s article in the Huffington Post, “Gergen: McCain Using Code Words To Attack Obama As ‘Uppity’” and the accompanying video of David Gergen on This Week on August 3, 2008.


I've watched and listened to you on TV since you and Shields participated in civil discourse on the McNeil/Lehrer Report. I've tended to appreciate your calm, cautious commentary but in recent times I have found you far less interesting and informative, particularly in your service as one of the political analysts on CNN.

I caught a video of your recent comments on This Week on McCain's use of code words against Obama. Please, David, take more time to reflect on what you say. As George Will sought to remark, McCain was asked about affirmative action (and it appears gave a response not entirely different from Obama's in speaking out against quotas) and he honestly answered. His comments, to you, were code words? My gosh, how far you have drifted from the kind of careful observation I used to find helpful.

Frankly, as a 60-something professional, former political scientist, and former Hillary supporter, I am not impressed by Obama. His recent flip flopping, whether on public financing of campaigns, FISA, the 4th Amendment, handling Iran, or off-shore oil drilling, has left me cold. For many Americans, myself included, we're still searching to learn who he is; he remains relatively unknown, a sudden star on the horizon.

I believe that the constant analyses, such as yours, that suggest that race is the key to the election are not helping him. Race is absolutely an important factor but I truly believe that the more his defenders, including you, David, whether you admit you've come to defend him or not, and others suggest that McCain or others are using race to defeat Obama, the more voters will be turned off by Obama and his candidacy. I would suggest, albeit without firm empirical data at this point, that many Americans are tired of having race thrown in their faces every time someone strongly criticizes Obama. Again, as Will noted, the Republican theme that the Democratic candidate is an elitist did not start with Obama, but when critics attempt to make that charge against Obama many of his defenders immediately suggest there is a racial component. In your case, you claim it is a code word apparently for an “uppity black”. David, please. Enough of this shallow analysis. Recognize that while Obama bested Hillary, albeit because of her campaign's ridiculous failure to contest the caucus states, many voters who hardly participated in the Democratic primaries are now focusing on the Democratic nominee and having difficulty discerning who he is, what he stands for, and whether he is someone they can trust as President, and race, while not irrelevant, isn't necessarily the determinative factor.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Molten Core of Barack: Why Obama Can't Win

I recommend that you read Alex Castellanos' article on the Huffington Post.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

I made the following comment on the Post:

Alex, I realize you're a professional consultant to the McCain campaign. I also realize you will be flamed no end here on the Huffington Post. Nonetheless, I think your article captures some of the reasons many Democrats, particularly those who supported Hillary Clinton, are still having great difficulty in embracing Obama. His flip-flopping on issues has been incredible, whether on public financing of campaigns, FISA, the Supreme Court's 4th amendment decision on guns, opening the strategic oil reserve, off-shore drilling, or Iran. I do not share your views on Obama's personality but I do think that he is not helping a nation develop a sense of who he is and that he can be trusted.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Notes on al-Maliki and Barak Obama

On Maliki and Chutzpah

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s comments a few weeks ago that seemed to back Obama’s 16 month schedule for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq were not only no mistake or misinterpretation but also seemed to me to be a classic example of that ancient principle know to many as chutzpah! Think about it: had America followed Obama’s “policy” toward Iraq from the outset, there would have been no invasion; Hussein would have remained in power as a repressive dictator, particularly of the Shia population, and Maliki and the Shi’ites would have remained out of power if not in prison or brutally repressed.

But, alas, that was then and this is now. Maliki clearly feels enormous political pressure from Shia in Iraq to retake greater control of Iraq’s own affairs. The American surge appears to have been successful in bringing greater military stability to Iraq and in seeing an improvement in Iraq’s own ability to maintain its own tranquility. Then, too, we know that politics makes strange bedfellows. As several have remarked, Maliki is using Obama’s candidacy as a pawn in his chess game with Bush over the terms of a status of forces agreement to cover the presence of American troops in Iraq in the future. At this point, perhaps American interests are best served by a withdrawal of its forces over the next two years, but on a certain level I was nonetheless offended by Maliki’s conduct. Maliki, whose ascent to power would not have happened but for Bush’s war, turned around during a visit by the opposition party’s candidate to succeed Bush and a long-time critic of Bush’s policy, and essentially bit the hand that fed him.

On Obama and Nation-Building in Afghanistan

While continuing to strongly criticize the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq, Obama has underscored his commitment to fighting al Qaida and its allies in Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan.

In watching and listening to him during his trip to Afghanistan, I wondered whether Obama has a strategy toward prosecuting the war against terrorism in that part of the world; whether he has any formula for “winning” in Afghanistan and an exit strategy in that theatre of war. He has been outspoken about prioritizing Afghanistan and moving American forces from Iraq to Afghanistan but what is his overall strategy there? Many have written that outsiders, whether British, Russian or American or others before them, have not fared well in bringing stability to Afghanistan for any significant periods of time. Does Obama believe that the United States, with NATO support, can nation-build in Afghanistan? Does he believe that the Taliban can be defeated in some finite period of time through a stronger American presence than it currently has there? I haven’t heard Obama lay out a clear policy on this issue.

There can be little debate that the threat from al Qaida was greater in Afghanistan than in Iraq (where there appears to have been none at all) in September 2001 and thereafter. In that sense, I believe Obama accurately reflects a consensus among many Americans that the Iraq War was a needless diversion of American resources and focus. But what now? Wither Afghanistan? Could it become the new Iraq, a country in which America will bury more treasure in a frustrating effort to repress Muslim terrorism?

And what of neighboring Pakistan? Wasn’t it Obama who, during the primary campaign in an effort to avoid being described as simplistic and naïve, raised the real possibility that he might dispatch American forces into Pakistan or at least launch cross-border attacks without Pakistani government consent? Obama has stated recently that the Bush Administration is not pressuring Pakistan to deal with Taliban and other al Qaida terrorists within its borders and that he would do better. It isn’t clear to me that the Bush Administration has been remiss in this regard or how Obama will pressure the post-Musharaf government to do more. While I’m not opposed to the somewhat nebulous policy statements Obama is currently making about American interests in Afghanistan, not only do they not appear terribly different than McCain’s position, but, as stated, I wonder what Obama’s overall vision is in that part of the world.

Clinton was accused by neo-conservatives who eventually dominated the Bush Administration of trying to nation-build in Bosnia and surrounding areas and condemned by them as hubris. Bush’s neo-conservatives then turned around and committed enormous American treasure toward nation-building in Iraq, a policy that thrust American soldiers into the middle of a sectarian civil war and that most Americans came to condemn. Now Obama is making statements that sound like a commitment to nation-building in Afghanistan, an incredibly remote area that has long resisted foreign intrusion. Obama had better think carefully about the implications of such an undertaking. He should have an exit strategy for the United States from Afghanistan and be sharing it with us now. I haven’t heard anything to date; just strong talk on the campaign trail.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Hillary For Vice Presidential Nominee? No. And That's Because Of Bill

No sooner had the Democratic nominating process for President seemingly ended this evening with a victory for Barack Obama than the selection process for his running mate began, ironically still pitting Obama against Clinton, this time with Hillary apparently trying to pressure Obama to select her. How strange and how sad.

I supported Hillary for the presidential nomination. Tonight when she asked her supporters to go to her website to pledge their support, I did and wrote her the following:

Dear Hillary,

A year ago I felt that I could not vote for you for President. I'm in my 60's, a white, professional male who voted for Bill twice but who had been turned off by your public persona.

You won me over in this campaign with your commitment, energy, fighting spirit and by showing me and others, for the first time, your more human and emotional side. I liked what I saw and I donated to your campaign several times and endorsed you in my blog (not that it brought you many votes).

At this point, I remain with you and am not sure I can support Obama. But at the same time, I know that it is time for you to join the effort to elect the Democratic nominee as president and, while I don't like it, that nominee will be Obama.

Thanks for your zeal, persistence and love of country. And, I do hope that your time will come.



Not only do I think it’s time for her to end her presidential campaign, but I also do not feel she should be Obama’s running mate, whether or not I ultimately decide to vote for him.

I’m old enough to recall John Kennedy selecting presidential rival Lyndon Baines Johnson as his running mate. Kennedy bested Johnson and others for the nomination. Johnson was, in many respects, a more seasoned and more powerful political figure than Kennedy in 1960, serving as majority leader in the Senate. They weren’t friends at all. But tapping Johnson as his running mate was a political calculation intended to improve the likelihood that Kennedy would win in Texas and other states.

For similar reasons, Obama may find tapping Hillary as his running mate attractive. I do not see their apparent antipathy for one another as the obstacle. I see Bill Clinton as the obstacle. Were I an adviser to Obama I would recommend against selecting Hillary as his running mate not because of Hillary but because of Bill. I have no doubt that he brought voters to Hillary in the primaries. But I also have no doubt that he repelled other voters. Selecting Hillary means getting Bill. His unpredictability and penchant for becoming the story lead me to conclude that selecting Hillary would be an overall detriment to Obama, perhaps less so in the presidential campaign, where Bill could be helpful to Obama, than in the White House.

One might ask why I supported Hillary for President if I harbor these negative feelings about Bill. I think like many I initially overcame my antipathy to Hillary because of my lingering affection for Bill. But as his behavior became more of a distraction, I wanted him to step back from her campaign. And as she emerged as the candidate, finding her own voice and showing more of herself, I found myself increasingly drawn to her. I even concluded that she would be able to keep him from negatively intruding on her presidency, were she the candidate and the victor. But I don’t think Obama should take that chance. He has a choice Hillary didn’t have and I think he should steer clear of Bill, which means he should not select Hillary.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Democrats’ Conundrum

How unexpected. We’re sitting around considering whether the Indiana primary on May 6 will be decisive in this presidential campaign of front loaded primaries.

Voters and party leaders, including those in California, had grown tired of the power and influence of the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary and wanted in on the early action. Even those not seeking to displace Iowa and New Hampshire wanted to move up their primaries so that they would be decisive in the nominating process. Too often by the time a state’s primary had arrived, the shape of the presidential campaign had already been profoundly molded, many candidates had already withdrawn, and sometimes the final outcome had already been decided.

As a result, for this 2008 campaign, states started falling all over themselves trying to move their respective party primaries to dates very early in the year. The press of front loading was so great that the Democratic primaries in two states, Michigan and Florida, were essentially stripped of legitimacy because the national party leaders wanted to keep some semblance of order or at least continue to permit Iowa and New Hampshire to lead.

And now? With two major candidates running neck and neck and neither likely to reach the convention with the required number of delegates to assure nomination, albeit with Obama holding a lead in elected delegates and popular vote in approved primaries and caucuses that he is unlikely to relinquish before the convention, the late primaries which many thought would be of no significance have emerged as key battlegrounds. Ohio and Texas might have determined the outcome, had Hillary lost. Pennsylvania then became the focus. But once again Hillary emerged triumphant and with a comfortable margin of victory.

So now attention has turned to Indiana, although North Carolina will also vote on May 6. Obama is expected to win in North Carolina, in part because of its percentage of African-American and affluent voters. Indiana, more like Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states with smaller percentages of black and affluent voters, has become more of the focus. If Hillary wins there she surely will continue with energy and gusto, even if she loses in North Carolina. If she loses in Indiana she will likely continue on but her recent string of victories with consequent bragging rights will have been broken and obviously this will work in favor of Obama and remind people that he remains in the lead.

Where is this all heading? Many continue to feel that the Democratic Party cannot deny the nomination to Barack Obama if he enters the convention with a greater popular vote than Hillary and more elected delegates, leaving Michigan and Florida out of the tabulations. The only way he can lose the nomination at that point is if a significant number of super delegates vote for Hillary presumably on the ground that she is more electable than Obama against McCain. And, the argument is that if the non-elected super delegates do that then many African-American voters, perhaps the most loyal Democratic Party voting bloc, and other fierce supporters of Obama, will be outraged, feel that Obama was denied the nomination because he is black, and will sit on their hands in November resulting in a McCain victory.

It is difficult to counter that argument as that is a very likely outcome if Obama is denied the nomination, no matter what else happens in the remaining Democratic primaries. The trouble, however, is that there are many who feel that chinks in Obama’s armor have begun to show, whether due to Hillary’s efforts, efforts of conservative commentators and others, closer media coverage, or as the result of Obama’s own behavior, and that he is now emerging as a very vulnerable candidate for President.

A commentator on cable news today who presumably has done polling of media coverage of the candidates and those associated with them stated that when it came to Obama, Hillary and Bill Clinton, Obama’s coverage stood at 83% positive, Hillary’s at 53% positive and Bill at only 23% positive. In seeking to explain these percentages, the commentator remarked that the media tend to be drawn to candidates who don’t appear to fit the same old politician mold and who preach unity rather than division. I certainly am one who believes that Obama has been given a relatively free ride in the media until now, with some exceptions.

But the Reverend Wright tapes and Obama’s responses and, more recently, Obama’s comments about bitter voters clinging to religion and guns have gradually exposed him to greater negative press and more critical media questioning, and have shown him to be far more a traditional politician (something I have been contending since the outset) than the idealistic, above the fray candidate dedicated to and capable of uniting red and blue, black, brown and white, conservative, moderate and liberal, that he has sought to present himself as since the outset. His extremely liberal voting record and news stories of his friendly, but not close, relationship with Bill Ayers, former member of the Weather Underground, have also undercut Obama’s image as a moderate.

I didn’t watch the Pennsylvania primary debate in which the ABC moderators asked Obama pointed questions on some of these issues and apparently Obama did not shine, but I did watch both Hillary and him deliver their remarks after the Pennsylvania voting showed Hillary had won. It was not surprising that Hillary was upbeat, energetic and seemed to connect with both those present and the TV cameras. Obama, speaking in Indiana, delivered a lackluster speech, no doubt in part reflecting his defeat as well as his fatigue. But I hadn’t seen him give a speech, as opposed to participate in a debate, in which he looked and sounded off his game. He reached into his playbook to patch together segments of his stump speeches but he seemed on autopilot.

Are the Democrats truly headed for a debacle, first at the National Convention and then at the polls in November? Hard to say. And many of us, me included, can’t help but blame Hillary for all this, perhaps unfairly but probably not. Had Hillary developed a strategy to contest the voting in caucus states and in a few smaller ones that had primaries things might not be where they are today. Given the proportional representation voting that is preventing her from mounting a powerful comeback, she might have been able to prevent Obama from rolling up the totals in delegate counts in those caucus and small primary states if she had merely paid some mind to them. I suspect that Hillary and her staff were seduced by the very myth, her “inevitability,” that they sought to propagate in the belief that it would render any opposition impotent and as a result did not elect to expend very many resources in those states.

Some may complain that, in blaming Hillary for her current situation, I am not giving Obama the credit he is due for having run such an excellent campaign to date. He has indeed excited an incredible number of voters to work for his campaign, support his candidacy with financial contributions in small amounts that are cumulatively staggering, and vote for him in caucuses and primaries in small and large states. There can be no question that his charisma, cool under pressure demeanor, and oratorical skills combined with his message of hope, unity and change have been major factors in his success and current status as frontrunner. Nonetheless, given Hillary’s victories in so many of the large, industrial states that have traditionally been the key to Democratic victory, it would appear that she should have been able to rally enough forces in caucus and small primary states to dent the delegate and electoral advantages Obama has been able to amass in them and be in the lead at this juncture, even putting aside Michigan and Florida.

My apologies for taking you this far in this post without now being in a position to provide a simple solution to the Democratic Party’s current conundrum. Right now it still seems to me that Obama will be the nominee. But he no longer is the magical candidate that he was to many a few months ago. While he is not besting McCain in recent one-on-one polls by any significant margin, Obama is faring no worse than Hillary, so her argument that she is a more formidable candidate against McCain has not been unequivocally established. But, as an older, longtime Democrat, political observer and political scientist, I am concerned that the party nominee may well be the candidate who failed to win the primaries in New York, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas and Ohio and, with a legitimate qualification, in Michigan and Florida as well. Will a very high percentage of primary voters who voted for Hillary turn around and support Obama in November? Will he be able to beat McCain? I have my doubts. But, as I noted above, the selection of Hillary as nominee through the actions of super delegates combined with her historical high negatives may doom her candidacy as well.

Stay tuned!⌂

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Too Many Missteps, Hillary

Hillary is definitely having troubles of late.

First came the video near the end of March showing that Hillary’s claims of landing under sniper fire in Tuzla, Bosnia in 1996 were simply not true. Her attempted explanation that she had misspoke and had a fuzzy memory given all the experiences she has had during the last decade and a half was simply not credible.

This was closely followed by the disclosure that Maggie Williams, Hillary’s fairly newly appointed campaign manager and long time aide, had sat on the board of Delta Financial Corporation for years, described as “one of the nation’s once-largest and now-bankrupt sub-prime mortgage lenders.”

Just yesterday, April 5, The New York Times reported that Hillary’s repeated remarks during her campaign about “an uninsured pregnant woman who lost her baby and died herself after being denied care by an Ohio hospital because she could not come up with a $100 fee” were being strongly denied by the hospital which has asked Hillary to desist from repeating the story. The Times reports that hospital administrators state that the woman “was under the care of an obstetrics practice affiliated with the hospital, that she was never refused treatment, and that she was, in fact, insured.”

And today, April 6, 2008, Mark Penn, Hillary’s chief strategist, stepped down from that position with her campaign. In his role as CEO of Burson-Marsteller, an international lobbying and public relations firm, Penn had recently met with the Colombian ambassador. Colombia had hired Penn’s firm to represent it in efforts to obtain a bilateral trade treaty with the United States that Hillary apparently opposes.

These missteps are seriously undermining Hillary’s campaign. Her advantage over Obama in Pennsylvania seems to be slipping, not surprisingly as Obama is able to focus his energies and resources there, and these mistakes make Hillary appear, at best, sloppy and not in effective control of her campaign and, at worst, a prevaricator. And all this is occurring against the backdrop of growing anxiety among Democrats, both leaders and rank and file, that the Democratic campaign is going on far too long and will diminish the prospects for victory in November. As the current underdog trying to convince Democrats and others that despite her position she deserves the nomination and is best suited to lead the country, Hillary’s candidacy is being severely tested if not torpedoed by these recent developments.

While I am among those concerned by the drawn out Democratic Party process, and do not see any basis for suggesting that Obama withdraw in favor of Hillary, I am not yet ready to call upon Hillary to withdraw. [I realize there are many out there looking to me to provide the right counsel to the party. ;-) ] If she wins in Pennsylvania, she will claim that the victory justifies her in continuing the campaign and I would concur. If she loses, she should concede. But if Hillary can’t avoid more missteps like those in recent weeks, her candidacy will likely be undone not by the electorate but by her own hand.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Dodgers’ 50th Anniversary in Los Angeles: At Best Bittersweet

The Los Angeles Dodgers just celebrated their 50th anniversary in Los Angeles with a special event at Dodger Stadium on opening day, the surprise appearance before the game of many Dodger greats of the past 50 years. Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote a moving column on the celebration, “Past becomes a present to Dodgers fans,” in the April 1, 2008 edition. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York and was a fervent Dodger fan before their departure in 1958. My email to Bill Plaschke follows:

Dear Bill,

I read your column “Past becomes a present to Dodgers fans” in yesterday’s (April 1, 2008) Los Angeles Times with a heavy heart. At the same time that I appreciated your description of the ceremony at Dodger Stadium and your commentary about the old Dodgers and the reception they received, I felt a profound sadness.

I just turned 65 years old. I was born in Brooklyn in 1943 and grew up a devoted Brooklyn Dodgers fan. There will only be one group that carries the title “Boys of Summer” for me, and they were the Dodgers of the 1950’s. Their departure from Brooklyn in 1958 broke my heart and those of so many other Brooklynites. I migrated to Southern California in 1969 and have lived here ever since, now well more than half my life, and while I grew to root for the Dodgers here they have never come close to measuring up to my Dodgers.

When you wrote of Duke Snider’s appearance in center field at the ceremony, my eyes teared and I could only think of him as The Duke of Flatbush and nowhere else. While we in Brooklyn knew that Duke hailed from San Diego, he belonged to us, in Brooklyn. Perhaps Mays and Mantle were superior all-around players but even if they were, and I would never concede that, Duke was ours and in our eyes was the best of the three. But those Dodgers were a team and none truly stood out above and beyond the others. Whether it was Gil Hodges and his legendary strength, Carl Furillo with his bullet throws, Jackie Robinson with all that he represented, Pee Wee Reese, the captain, Roy Campanella, an anchor for so long, Joe Black for one remarkable season, Billy Cox, Preacher Roe, Junior Gilliam, Don Newcombe or, of course, Carl Erskine with that incredible overhand delivery, these were remarkable players who constituted a remarkable team. How could anyone forget the batting line up, although it began to change as the decade passed. Duke batting third, Jackie batting clean up, and then what? Campy, Hodges, Furillo or in some order like that? Carl Furillo, who won a batting championship, batting seventh? What consistent hitters. What power hitters. How in the world could we have lost to the Yankees so often?!!

And then there was Vin Scully who, unbeknownst to himself, welcomed me to Los Angeles in 1969 as I drove across the desert from Needles on the last day of my travels across the country. I knew no one here and to hear his voice was comforting, as it remains to so many generations of baseball fans. He was part of the Red Barber, Vin Scully, Connie Desmond trio who broadcast Dodger games in the early 1950’s and as a young boy I loved listening to all three.

I do not begrudge Los Angelenos celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers’ arrival here, although I have never entirely forgiven Walter O’Malley for taking our Dodgers from our midst or the Los Angeles political figures from luring him here. As an adult, I’ve come to better appreciate his efforts to build a stadium in Brooklyn and the ways in which Robert Moses thwarted those attempts. But if the Dodgers play a major part in bringing the people of Los Angeles together, imagine how central they were to the identity of the people of Brooklyn. The Bronx had the Yankees. Manhattan, or at least the residential parts, had the Giants. The Dodgers were ours, and then they were gone.

You wrote “At Monday’s opening day, Los Angeles was 56,000 Dodgers lovers with peanuts in their throats and Cracker Jack in their memories.” As I read your words, what came to my mind were flashes of Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson taking leads off second and first, and then pulling off another double steal; Duke Snider hitting a fastball over the scoreboard on that high right field wall into Flatbush Avenue; Carl Furillo throwing out a base runner at third who tried to stretch a double into a triple; Gil Hodges breaking up a fight; Roy Campanella walking to the mound to reassure a nervous pitcher; and so many other memories of baseball at Ebbets Field.

So for me, celebrating the Dodgers’ 50th anniversary in Southern California is at best bittersweet. I’m glad the McCourts recognize the importance of history but Dodgers’ history goes back way before 1958. And I know I’m not the only transplanted Brooklynite here in Los Angeles who felt heartache yesterday. At least The Duke wore a Brooklyn jersey.

Thanks, Bill, for your moving writing.


Donald Newman

Monday, March 31, 2008

Say What? Doublespeak or Worse from the Presidential Candidates

1. Obama and Long Movies

After Obama-supporter Senator Pat Leahy called upon Hillary Clinton to end her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination on the ground that she cannot win and her continued efforts will damage the party’s chances in November, Hillary responded forcefully by claiming that his and others’ calls amounted to denying Democrats in the remaining primary states a chance to express themselves at the ballot box. On Saturday, March 29, 2008, Barack Obama distanced himself from Leahy’s position, saying that Clinton should stay in the race “as long as she wants,” while urging that the party unite behind a candidate after the primaries have concluded.

But on the previous day, March 28, Obama, at a rally in Pittsburgh, seemed to be strongly suggesting that Hillary exit the race, by describing the campaign as “a good movie that lasted about a half an hour too long.”

Surely Obama would like the race to end and Hillary to withdraw. No one can blame him for that. In fact, many of us increasingly fear that the fight between Clinton and Obama has turned nasty and that its continuation will diminish, not strengthen, the prospects for a Democratic victory in November. But Obama also knows that to call for Hillary to withdraw despite the outstanding primaries, the closeness of the race, and the absence of a resolution to the Florida and Michigan fiascos, makes him look like a competitor trying to press his opponent to concede before the voting has stopped and he has truly won the campaign. In such circumstances, doublespeak works wonders and Obama has increasingly shown himself adept at it.

2. Hillary and Gun Fire

Is it only a momentary flap or has Hillary seriously shot herself in the foot, so to speak, with her misstatements about her trip in 1996 to Tuzla, Bosnia where she claimed she landed under sniper fire and, instead of participating in a greeting ceremony at the airport, she and others ran with their heads down to waiting vehicles. CBS film of the event shows Clinton and daughter Chelsea being greeted by a little girl on the tarmac who kissed Clinton on the cheek with no sniper fire or running for cover anywhere in evidence.

Hillary is not the first political candidate to misstate the truth, whether purposefully or, as she claims, through a faulty memory. But this misstep has occurred at a particularly crucial point in time. The focus had been almost exclusively on Obama’s statements about the Reverend Wright, statements that had raised serious questions about Obama’s truthfulness. Clinton’s misstatement is even more glaring, as there is video that clearly shows her landing in Tuzla. And I for one will never accept that this was all a function of fuzzy memory. You don’t forget being exposed to sniper fire or, more to the point, you don’t mistakenly remember it when it never occurred. I would be willing to accept the fuzzy memory explanation if such an incident had occurred to Clinton elsewhere. But I’ve yet to read of a trip Hillary made where she was in fact greeted by sniper fire, at least the kind that comes out of guns rather than adversaries’ mouths.

3. Obama and Reverend Wright

On “The View,” an ABC television program featuring a group of female commentators, that aired this last Friday, March 28, 2008, Barack Obama said: "Had the reverend not retired and had he not acknowledged that what he had said had deeply offended people and were inappropriate and mischaracterized what I believe is the greatness of this country, for all its flaws, then I wouldn't have felt comfortable staying there at the church."

So, after remaining a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ for approximately 20 years during which time Reverend Wright made the incendiary remarks shown in often aired videos, Obama tells us now that had Wright not retired, which he apparently did a month ago, he “wouldn’t have felt comfortable staying there at the church.” Does this even mean Obama would have left the church had Wright remained as the active pastor or that Obama might well have remained but with feelings of discomfort? More doublespeak?

Most importantly, how convenient now to tell us of his lack of comfort while there appears no evidence he felt any during the years Wright was pastor and Obama belonged to the church. As to Obama’s claims that he was not present during Wright’s incendiary statements, let’s just say that it begs credulity to believe that Obama was unaware of Wright’s views and statements on the topics addressed in the videos throughout the 20 year period.

Obama’s efforts to distance himself from Reverend Wright’s incendiary statements and to even proclaim his own ignorance of them, while at the same time explaining and justifying his longstanding and very close relationship with Wright and even Wright's anger and remarks, don’t work for me. I see them as an admittedly skilled tap dance by a very talented political player. I have become increasingly cynical about Obama’s attempt to market himself as someone above politics and different from other politicians in the ways they seek office. Rather, this evidences even more clearly Obama’s calculated efforts over the years to build a coalition of constituents and supporters who frequently hold diverse and conflicting views by presenting himself somewhat differently to different groups. And that is precisely what all politicians do. I’d respect Obama more were he not so hypocritical in this endeavor. But, despite my misgivings, Democratic voters in recent polls seem to have accepted Obama’s explanations and his Philadelphia address and continue to support him in the nominating process. Nonetheless, I think the Wright episode will seriously weaken his candidacy in November, assuming he wins the nomination.

4. McCain, Lieberman and Al Qaeda

Will Joseph Lieberman be a vice-presidential candidate again in 2008? I ask that sarcastically but his constant appearances with John McCain have to make you wonder! To be sure, I am disappointed in Lieberman. I didn’t favor dumping him as the Democratic nominee for re-election to the Senate in Connecticut because of his position on the Iraq War but I must confess that now I feel otherwise.

In any case, while some of McCain’s supporters now claim that his misstatement in Jordan about Iran’s relationship with Al Qaeda was not incorrect, his remark was inaccurate and a gaffe and underscored the concerns many, including I, have about McCain’s ability to provide new, inspired and inspiring leadership to America.

As reported on March 18, 2008, in “The Trail,” a daily diary of the presidential campaign appearing in The Washington Post, “McCain said he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be concerned about Iranian operatives ‘taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back.’ Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it was ‘common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that's well known. And it's unfortunate.’ A few moments later, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in the presidential candidate's ear. McCain then said: ‘I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.’”

We have to hope that Lieberman is not emerging as McCain’s Dick Cheney and that McCain is not morphing into but a variant of George W. Bush.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Reflections on Obama's Philadelphia Speech

I viewed significant excerpts last night on television of Obama’s speech on race that he delivered in Philadelphia. I didn’t watch the entire speech but I did read the entire text. Obviously people have reacted in differing ways to Obama’s speech. It did not move or inspire me.

First off, I admit I’ve grown partisan enough in favor of Hillary (despite her and Bill’s obvious flaws), negative enough toward MsNBC, and bored enough toward CNN, that I have found myself watching FoxNews’ conservative commentators more often not because I agree with them on most issues but because I think the coverage tends to be more extensive and the commentary more direct.

I read The New York Times’ editorial this morning that praises Obama to the hilt (“Mr. Obama’s Profile in Courage”). Not my impression. Dick Morris, someone I tend to loathe, remarked last night that, in his view, the reason Obama joined the Trinity United Church of Christ in the first place and stayed there was because, as a black young man originally from Hawaii finding himself in Chicago, that church allowed him entrée into the black community, something important to him given his political aspirations. I tend to agree. In other words, Obama’s attempt to separate religion and his entirely personal spiritual relationship with Wright from Wright’s political views and style is highly questionable. Wright may well have provided Obama and his family with meaningful religious guidance but Obama’s ongoing association with the church and Wright had a political component as well. I find Obama’s, and The Times’, claims to the contrary to be disingenuous.

And all this talk about Obama’s honesty in his speech, candor in discussing race relations, baring his soul, and drawing a distinction between religion and politics, shouldn’t hide the fact that this speech was a most basic example of political damage control. Frankly, I was particularly annoyed and upset by Obama’s attempt to draw parallels and moral equivalency between Wright’s incendiary language and Ferraro’s comment about the significance of Obama’s race in his political success this year, and then between Wright’s very public, incendiary diatribes and Obama’s own white grandmother’s private admissions to being fearful of black men on the street (something not at all necessarily evidencing racism or paranoia) and making some racial stereotypes that made Obama cringe but that he failed to identify. But, no, The New York Times didn’t call him to task for that or his continuing failure to explain why he remained silent and retained his pastor on one of his advisory panels in the face of his pastor’s history of incendiary political statements and until this political firestorm emerged.

Obama is a very talented speaker, although I wasn’t particularly moved by his delivery last night. And he isn’t the first and won’t be the last to comment about America’s history of racism, race relations and our need to resolve that significant issue. While I can’t quite match Senator Lloyd Bentsen because I didn’t personally know Lincoln, FDR or Kennedy, to whom The Times compared Obama, I knew them sufficiently by their words and courage (Lincoln), words and leadership (FDR) and words and having come to age during Camelot (Kennedy) to say that Obama is no Lincoln, FDR or even Kennedy. Liberals refuse to see him as the astute and articulate politician that he is. They want to elevate him to a stature above that of politician in large part because that fits their political agendas. Obama, whether seen in the context of his relationship (only last Friday admitted, by Obama, to have been far broader than earlier acknowledged) with Rezko, or in his votes of ‘present’ in the Illinois legislature, or in his concessions to business interests when he introduced a bill to protect residents against nuclear radiation, or in his cautious approach to Iraq once he stepped on the national stage, is nothing more or less than a politician, not a “movement” or some transcendent figure. Yes he identified some of the grievances of black and white in his speech last night. But it’s not as if that hasn’t been done before. And what are his solutions? What are his courageous choices? He offered nothing but generalized bromides.

To be clear, I do not believe that Obama harbors Wright’s incendiary views about whites or America. But I also don’t see Obama as the vanguard of a new, enlightened social movement. I see him as another politician, like Hillary, Edwards, McCain and others, albeit with his own political positions and style. I don’t condemn him for that. But I am repelled by the efforts of many to put him on a pedestal. He and his campaign managers felt that any likelihood of success in this campaign meant that he could not be seen as a black candidate, let alone as the candidate of the black community. His triumphant remarks after primary wins alluded to race (e.g., they thought “it” couldn’t be done) without mentioning it. But now, faced by this political firestorm, he has brought race front and center while continuing to emphasize “unity” as his answer to all problems, including race. As I’ve noted previously, he is a master at using buzzwords in his political speeches and did so again yesterday. While I recognize that one cannot separate Wright’s race from his incendiary political statements, Wright’s positions, not his race, are what has offended many, and Obama’s silence, not his race, has raised questions about his courage and judgment.

I recall when Bill Clinton, now reviled by some blacks, sought to find some balance on the affirmative action issue during his presidency. As I admittedly vaguely recall, he acknowledged the excesses of as well as the value in affirmative action programs (and took flack from liberals for acknowledging that there could be any excesses). I’m not suggesting that Clinton was a great president or great man for having done so. But it points out that it isn’t as if no other American until yesterday has sought to address the problems of race in this country and seek to find a middle ground. Clinton was trying to find a middle approach to a hot button issue tied to the history of race in America.

Obama’s speech would have been more impressive had it been delivered in different circumstances. It wasn’t given “voluntarily” at a time when he didn’t have to address the volatile and divisive issue of race but chose to do so. It was given to save his political bacon. We’ll see whether it succeeds in that respect. But he is still not my candidate of choice.