Archive for the '2008 election' Category

End of an Error, But An Historical Pivot?

end-of-an-error

One of my favorite bumper stickers from the campaign last fall was: “1.20.09: End of an Error.” Because it was not only the end of W. but really the end of the conservative era that began with Reagan.  But, isn’t there a better descriptor for the last 25 years than “conservative era”?  Isn’t there a book or other work of art that defines the seismic shift in American spirit today?

To that end, our fair Fight Club recently read “Promised Land: 13 Books That Changed America” by Jay Parini.  Parini skillfully makes the case that these 13 books each captured (in some cases precipitated) an historic pivot point in American history.  Parini takes a chronological approach beginning with “Of Plymouth Plantation: 1620-1647” by William Bradford and ending with “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan first published in 1963.  This begs the question: what book (or other medium for that matter) captures or defines the American zeitgeist since 1963? 

For once, Fight Club was speechless.  No one could think of a book that describes the many pivot points we’ve had since 1963.  Finally, Rich H. threw out Google, the search engine.  Though Google does not provide any commentary on our current times, it provides a means to an end and certainly represents the disruptive nature of the Internet.  Everyone seemed to agree that was a good choice.  Then, Matt H. threw out Star Wars, the pop culture phenomenon created by George Lucas.  Given that we’re all men in our 30s, the Star Wars demographic, we all agreed.  I thought this was an interesting choice because, although the first movie came out in 1977, it nicely sums up the 80s for me.  Reagan was elected, we were fighting a good war (if by proxy) against the “evil empire,” and the “force” (recently deregulated and unfettered capitalism) was on our side.  There was an optimism and bullishness about our future, especially after the dissolution of the USSR.  

But, it seems to me to be a sad commentary that, in the company of Walden, Huckleberry Finn, and On The Road, the best we could come up with is Google and Star Wars.  Is there no work of art that broadly captures the huge changes in our lifetime?  In the 46 years since “Feminine Mystique” is there no book that resonates broadly on the pivots of Vietnam, AIDs, end of the Cold War, ever-growing income gap, 9/11, Iraq, Barack Obama?  Perhaps there have been too many pivot points and we’re just disoriented?  Maybe the great American road story has run out of pavement and our Great Expansion is over?  Maybe we lit out for the territory in search of the promised land and, like Sal, simply found that the road ends at the Pacific.

In any case, we find ourselves a year into this Great Recession and, upon looking around at the flotsam and jetsam, are disgusted with the 25 years of binge-consumption, greed and avarice it represents.  We were too tolerant and permissive with men like Bernie Madoff, Rod Blagojevich, Mark Foley, Ken Lay, Bernie Ebbers, and Charles Keating.

In spite of our transgressions with these scoundrels, they do not define us. We call out to the better angels of our nature – to the grown-ups, The Greatest Generation.  What do our grandfathers say about our current situation?  Well, they’re wringing theirs hands – some saying I told you so, others like Arthur Levitt and Alan Greenspan are actually apologizing.   But, mostly they’re implicated, swept up in the “New Economy” and “New World Order” – guys like George H.W. Bush, Warren Buffet, Jack Welch, and Dick Cheney.

The American character is both Ben Franklin and Sal Paradise.  Some of the time we embody the Yankee ethic ofsobriety, practical ingenuity, common sense and fair play.  At other times, it’s all sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.  But, it’s not to say that we’ve experienced some moral decline (see Dr. Spock).  This dual nature of the American character was there from the beginning.  William Bradford chronicles the virtuous and God-fearing Plymouth Plantation while scolding his fellow colonist  Thomas Morton who had the nerve to…

… set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing about it many days together, inviting the Indian women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking together (like so many fairies, or furies rather) and worse practices. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of ye Roman Goddess Flora, or ye beastly practices of ye mad Bacchanalians.

Fair reader, what say you?  Does the Campbell’s soup painting by Andy Warhol, “Bonfire of the Vanities” by Tom Wolfe, or “An Inconvenient Truth” with Al Gore, capture the zeitgeist?  Or, maybe that’s what makes Parini’s 13 books that much more remarkable – they only come around once in a great while.

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Franken or Coleman? Odds Favor A1.

A week later, we still don’t know who the 2nd Senator from Minnesota will be.  The margin between Coleman and Franken has shrunk over the last week to 221 or .0001% (there were 2,833,089 votes cast in the Senate race).

538.com has some excellent analysis on the probability of who is more likely to win in a recount.  It turns out that if 51.25% of uncounted votes (25,000 or 0.9%) turn out to be votes for Franken, he has a 98.8% chance of ultimately winning.

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Also, more details have emerged regarding Coleman’s friend and supporter Nasser Kazeminy improperly channeling $75,000 to Coleman in 2007 through Coleman’s wife’s employer.

Funny story: a friend of mine got a call from the Franken campaign.  They asked “are you going to vote for A-one Franken?”  Apparently, the L looked like a 1.  Ha!  Good on a steak, but for Senate?  Moral of the story: when you’re paying someone to call potential voters, you should make sure the people calling can read.

Turn of the Tide

The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I’ve been struggling with what to post on the recent election.  But, I just got off the phone with a friend in the UK who was more enthusiastic about Obama than I was, and I voted for him!  And, then Bill B. forwarded this article by William Kole who got a kiss from a stranger on the train in Vienna because he’s American. 

So, I realized that after spending 21 months immersed in this election, I lack perspective.  And, while I’m relieved that Obama was finally elected, I haven’t had a sense for how huge this is.  Looking at the election from the outside, whether you’re a foreigner or an expatriate, it’s obvious.

Along these same lines, Nicholas Kristof wrote a column three weeks ago titled “Rebranding the US with Obama” about a conversation he had with a friend in Beijing:

She: Obama? But he’s the black man, isn’t he?

Me: Yes, exactly.

She: But surely a black man couldn’t become president of the United States?

Me: It looks as if he’ll be elected.

She: But president? That’s such an important job! In America, I thought blacks were janitors and laborers.

Me: No, blacks have all kinds of jobs.

She: What do white people think about that, about getting a black president? Are they upset? Are they angry?

Me: No, of course not! If Obama is elected, it’ll be because white people voted for him.

[Long pause.]

She: Really? Unbelievable! What an amazing country!

We are at the lowest ebb.  The tide is turning.  What an amazing country, indeed.

What are the responsibilities of Mayor of Wasilla?

There were a few folks after John McCain announced his running mate that drew the comparison between Sarah Palin and Teddy Roosevelt for their short time as governors and of course their leadership capabilities.  You know… leader of the First Calvary (Rough Riders) and Mayor of Wasilla… obvious conclusions.  And then there was the comment during Palin’s RNC address where she chided Obama about being a “community organizer” while she was just a small town Mayor with “Responsibilities.”  Well thank God for investigative journalism… we now know ALL of the details that the Mayor of Wasilla is responsible for… and it is a LONG list!  Watch for yourself from The Daily Show (details at the 2 minute mark).

New use for Twitter… Poll Cop?

I ust saw this one on Twitter… NPR wants you to tweet to #votereport if you “experience probs when voting, send a tweet with your zip, the tag #votereport & a description so we can investigate trends.”

What do you think?

Truth, Lies, & Taboos… how dearly do they cost us?

I have been doing a lot of think lately about several of our societal taboos… specifically talking about religion, politics, and money.  I have always been a fan of the quote “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, which refers to the benefits of openness and transparency.  There was a further suggestion from Louis Grumet, Publisher of The CPA Journal, who offered “We should not only accept criticism and suggestions, we should embrace them.  If questions from constituents, the public, or the media make leaders or other responsible parties obfuscate, the questions are usually valid and the answers are not.  People who feel uncomfortable under the bright light of scrutiny and criticism often have something to hide.”

I am suggesting that this impartive not only holds true for politicians but for all of us and that by conforming to the norms and labeling subjects as taboo we are supporting prejudice, hatred, misinformation, lies, deceit, and unaccountability – we are letting these lies survive in the dark alleyway between Truth & Freedom.  When women like Gayle Quinnell of Shakopee suggested that she didn’t trust Senator Barack Obama and called him “an Arab” at a Lakeville, MN, McCain rally we all thought wow… did she just say that in public?  My next question was, where had Gayle been “hiding” this racism?  Hasn’t she talked with others about the candidates?  Doesn’t she know that Barack is actually a Christian?  If her friends, family members, or fellow parishioners had heard her mention this idea before did no one speak up?  Did no one correct her on the facts?  When we avoid discussing our religious and political beliefs with others who do not agree with us we are protecting ourselves from having difficult or uncomfortable questions that we may not wish to face.  The latest of these taboos is the belief that we should not talk about money with friends, neighbors, or family.  A couple of stories that I thought I would share… 1) two years ago in a local fast food establishment I overheard a couple talking about how their daughter and son-in-law planned to file for bankruptcy immediately after returning from the cruise trip that they were on, 2) a year and a half ago friends were trying to sell their condo and plan for a down payment on their house – they had almost no money in savings but drove new Cadillac and Audi vehicles and spent lavishly on expensive clothes and purses, and finally 3) this weekend I overheard a few patrons talking in a restaurant about how one of them had four different vehicles in four years but had no money.  Where was the sense of responsibility from these people?  Did no one question their actions?  Did no one question their sense of accountability?  We need to again talk about our beliefs and actions… we need to expose them to the light of day… and we need to be more accepting of those who might question us or our motives… or we will continue to provide safehavens for prejudice, hatred, misinformation, lies, deceit, and unaccountability.

Good election numbers website

Track the polls and get insights into the daily horse race:

http://www.electoral-vote.com/


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