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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Responsibility

Sooooo . . . has anyone reading this ever been a delegate to the Missouri State Democratic Convention before?

Because it would appear that, as of tonight, I am one. And I could use some advice.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Not Dead Yet

Just have that bad flu that is going around. Or maybe a sinus infection. Or an exotic toxic mold infection. Or maybe it's an alien parasite squirming inside my head, trying to break free.

All I know is, I've had a pounding headache on and off for a week, and a vaguely stuffy nose, and a sore throat, and I want to sleep a lot. (Why am I not sleeping now, when it is in fact past midnight Central Time? See headache + sore throat.)

And it's a shame, too, because I have all these lovely posts lined up in my throbbing head, but the throbbing, it keeps them from coming out.

Like for instance I want to write something evocative and creepy yet insightful about this recurring nightmare my son has been having.

And I want to write something sad and inspirational about children losing helium balloons, possibly in the form of poetry which you will almost certainly snicker at silently and derisively behind your hands, but I've been feeling poetical lately, and if the post wants to come out that way, well then, it can't be helped, can it?

And also I was sent this book by one of the frillion famous Doctors Sears, called The Vaccine Book a couple of months ago that the publisher wanted me to review, and I've not really done a book review here before, and I thought, hey, this is a book some of my readers would really be interested in, and I'm interested in this subject myself, so, really, maybe I should review it! And I've read it now and checked up on some of its sources and such and I have that review in my head and it would be timely and zeitgeist-y given Kristen has been posting about vaccines on Motherhood Uncensored and all, but, if I tried to force my sluggish brain to write a nuanced review of such a remarkably detailed book on such a controversial subject right now, I suspect my effort would not end well. But you should check it out, if you get the chance. It's a good book, overall.

(I feel like I am somehow channeling Catherine and Debbie at the same time tonight, which is an interesting balance of styles, no? Kind of like a California Roll. Or at least, what I imagine a California Roll WOULD be like, given I don't eat crab.)

Anyway I shall get to all three of these posts when I'm feeling better. Which I'm really hoping will be, like, tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Standing Up for Net Neutrality

If you're interested in protecting internet neutrality, as I know many bloggers are, check out this bill introduced today by Congressman Edward Markey, D, Mass.

You can visit this site if you'd like to contact your state's representatives to inform them of your support.


(Okay, I know-- more politics. But at least this is INTERNET politics. People who read blogs LIKE to talk about internet politics, right? And anyway you have no idea how much I am fighting my impulse right now to rant about another bill that just got passed-- the new FISA bill aka the "Let's grant people and corporations who violate the Constitution by spying on the communications of innocent U.S. citizens without warrants immunity from prosecution and civil suits" bill aka the "Heck, we've already tossed out habeus corpus and freedom from cruel and and usual punishment, so, hey, while we're at it, we might as well just burn the Bill of Rights" bill.)

(Oops. Did I just write about that FISA bill?)

(Sorry.)

[Edited to clarify: the FISA bill passed in the Senate, but still hasn't passed in the House, so there is still time to fight it if you are interested.]

Isaac's Valentine

Isaac and I were making Valentine's Day cookies yesterday. He cut out a heart-shaped one and covered it mostly in sparkly red sprinkles. "This one is for Daddy," he said. He cut another heart-shaped cookie and covered it in mostly in multi-colored dots. "This one is for you, Mommy," he said.

And then, with the last of the dough, he made a round cookie, bigger than all the rest, shaping by hand. He piled it high with sprinkles of every kind.



"This one is special for Cammy," he said.



Indeed!

Blog Order of Business

Hi all,

I've temporarily turned on comment moderation so I can filter out a persistent troll. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Man with No Experience

Okay, I really was planning to be done with posting about politics on the blog for a while, but, since I put up my posts expressing support for Barack Obama, a lot of people have been asking me, "But what experience does he have? What has he done?"

The mainstream media has been pretty gung-ho about sticking to its narrative that Hillary Clinton is the Uninspiring Yet Experienced, Emotionally Off-Putting Yet Politically Shrewd Candidate and Barack Obama is the Inspiring and Charismatic Yet Inexperienced and Politically Naive Candidate. (See my previous post on this subject.)

I don't think this portrayal is fair to either candidate. Obama has political experience. Clinton can connect well with voters. But, considering how ridiculously thin mainstream media coverage has been on ANY of the current presidential primary candidates' positions on policy issues, or their voting records, I can see why people who haven't had the time or inclination to do some serious research in those areas might be a bit flummoxed as to what Obama is really about.

If you are interested in learning about Obama's legislative record and policy plans yourself, you can start by checking out his official Senate website and his presidential campaign website's Issues page.

However, since I already did a fair bit of research myself on his record before deciding to support him as a candidate, I have decided to post some highlights here:


Obama's Career Before Politics:
  • Worked as a grassroots community organizer for the Developing Communities Project in Chicago, where, among other projects, he successfully fought for asbestos abatement measures in public schools and in public housing units
  • Obtained a law degree from Harvard Law School
  • Worked as civil rights lawyer and as a constitutional law professor at University of Chicago

Obama’s Accomplishments in the Illinois State Legislature:

Obama sponsored over 800 bills during his eight years in the Illinois State Legislature.

Ethics Reform:

  • Helped draft and pass important bipartisan campaign finance reform legislation that the New York Times has called “the first significant campaign finance reform law in Illinois in 25 years.” This reform bill banned most gifts by lobbyists and gave the media unprecedented access to campaign finance records for state legislature members

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties:

  • Helped reform the state death penalty system after several death row inmates in Illinois were found by courts to be innocent
  • Helped pass legislation requiring that police homicide interrogations be recorded on video to prevent coerced confessions
  • Negotiated a compromise between the ACLU and local law enforcement to pass a law requiring police officers to record the race of drivers they stopped as a way to track and prevent racial profiling
  • Co-sponsored a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation (sadly, this bill did not pass, but a later version succeeded after he had left the State Senate)

Helping Working Families:

  • Chief sponsor of a five percent earned-income state tax credit for the working poor
  • Worked to increase child care subsidies for low-income families
  • Sponsored a bill to provide job skills training for recipients of federal aid
Environment:

Obama has publicly stated that cleaning up air pollution in Chicago was a personal priority of his given his oldest daughter’s asthma.
  • Drafted a bill to reduce harmful mercury emissions from coal-fired electricity plants
  • Fought for legislation to tighten energy efficiency standards in commercial and residential buildings
  • Received a 100 Percent Environmental Voting Record Award from the Illinois Environmental Council

Health Care:

  • Successfully co-sponsored a prescription drug discount program for seniors and the disabled
  • Sponsored the Health Care Justice Act, which authorized a study of ways to implement a statewide universal health care system

Obama’s Record in the Senate:

Ethics Reform:

The Washington Post says Obama leads the pack on ethics reform.

  • Successfully co-sponsored and passed the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act to create a public website where users can search all government contracts, grants, earmarks, and loans, opening up Federal financial transactions to public scrutiny
  • Sponsored the Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act, which would have required all earmarks to be disclosed 72 hours before they could be considered for a vote, and would have prohibited Senators from advocating for an earmark if they had any financial interest in the project or earmark recipient. His original version of the bill did not pass, but some of its provisions were included in the ethics and lobbying reform bill that passed the Senate in January 2007
  • Introduced amendments to the Homeland Security and Defense spending bills to restrict no-bid contracts
  • Voted against the most recent effort to raise the national debt limits

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties:

  • Voted for an amendment to restore the habeas corpus rights for all persons detained by the United States (this amendment did not have the two-thirds majority to override a Bush veto threat)
  • Voted AGAINST a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States authorizing Congress to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States

Environment:

  • Co-sponsored the National Low Carbon Fuel Standard Act to require a 10% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the national transportation fuel pool by 2020
  • Authored the Fuel Economy Reform Act to raise automobile fuel efficiency standards (also known as “CAFE” standards). The bill would establish incremental progress in miles per gallon fuel efficiency by an increase of four percent annually
  • Voted to prevent the EPA from loosening mercury emissions standards for coal-fired electric plants

Helping Working Families

  • Voted to increase Federal Pell Grants to give more low-income students access to higher education

Health Care:

  • Co-sponsored the National MEDiC Act to promote patient safety initiatives, provide for early disclosure of medical errors, and provide compensation to patients injured by medical errors
  • Sponsored the Hospital Quality Report Card Act, which will use federal hospital quality reporting requirements to help patients make informed health care decisions
  • Supported expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
  • Introduced the Lead-Free Toys Act in 2005 to require the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban any children’s product from containing more than trace amounts of lead (this bill, sadly, got hung up in committee and did not come to a vote)


Okay, this is it for a while on politics, friends. For the next few posts I'm going back to blogging about the cute things my three-year-old says and other such boring Mommyblogger topics.

And for all my fellow St. Louis bloggers, I'm sorry I didn't make it to the shindig tonight-- my husband has been sick for most of this week and since he still isn't feeling very well I didn't feel like sticking him with parenting duty alone tonight. I hope you're all having a blast.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Enough About Whom I'm Voting For

If you're still undecided, these tools might help point you toward the right candidate for you:

Electoral Compass

USA Today Candidate Match Quiz (Thanks to A Bun's Life for this link.)

Project Vote Smart

Why I Prefer Obama to Clinton: Sometimes Inspiration Does Matter Just as Much as Persperation

What is the first thing you learned, when you were in elementary school, about Dr. Martin Luther King?

I'll lay a dollar it was that he Had a Dream.

Schoolchildren across the nation and around the world memorize this part of his famous Lincoln Memorial speech:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.
Schoolchildren memorize this part of speech, and sometimes, they act it out its imagery together, children of different races and religions and ethnicities standing together in their integrated classroom, holding hands.

And what was the first thing you learned about John F. Kennedy, besides the fact of his assassination? Well, it may have been the inauguration speech where he said this:
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage - and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

and this:

So let us begin anew - remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belabouring those problems which divide us.

and of course, this:

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.

Of course, both of these men worked very hard, when they weren't speaking, to bring about serious social change. Both of these men led rich, interesting and sometimes controversial personal lives. Both of these men had help, lots of help, from other men and women who thought and planned and worked and fought to make the visions of these two leaders succeed.

But that's not what our teachers teach us about, first, in school.

Why do we learn about the words before we learn about the actions?

Because these words are powerful. They are more than idle speech. These words illuminate a vision.

The words embody the vision.

The vision precedes the action. The vision motivates the action. The vision and the action and the words that help to power both are inextricably intertwined.

These words have a power that allows them to both mirror and transcend their historical context. If these words were found, a thousand years from now, written on a scrap of stone, after our society had collapsed and our history had been forgotten, and someone somewhere in such an imaginary future understood how to read them, these words would still have the power to move.

A lot of people have compared Senator Barack Obama to JFK and Dr. King because he seems to possess a similar ability to inspire and motivate people with his words.

A lot of other people argue that Barack Obama is not entitled to these great men's mantles, because he has not yet proven to us that his actions will match his words.

And I think that second group of people are right about one thing: Barack Obama has not yet proven himself to be an epic leader. We do not yet have proof that his actions will speak even louder than his words.

But I also think we should not discount the power of his inspirational words.

The vision precedes the action.

We are a nation discouraged and disheartened by economic uncertainty, natural disaster and war. We are a nation that has seemed all too often in recent history bitterly divided over how to solve the problems we face as a people.

We are a nation desperately in need of a new vision.

The words embody the vision. The vision precedes the action. The action needs the words.

So I say, if Barack Obama's words inspire people to come together across racial and class lines and even across party divides, if those words inspire people who have never voted in their lives to come out and participate in the political process-- if those words make some people who have lost all hope in their government begin to feel hope again-- then those words are not empty promises. Those words are already accomplishing the most important part of what they have to do.

Those words are moving people. Together.

And if his words can do that in a primary, I have hope his words can also do that in a presidency.

I have hope.

Why I Prefer Obama to Clinton: Policy Differences

Foreign Policy

This is one area where I very, very strongly prefer Obama.

I am opposed to the Bush Doctrine of unilateralism and preemptive war. I feel the Bush administration's foreign policy mistakes have cost us goodwill around the world, stifled international cooperation, damaged our nation's image as a moral global leader. I believe these policies have made our country less safe from terrorism, the very opposite of the goal they were supposedly intended to accomplish.

I believe the only way the next president can to even begin to repair the damage done by the current administration will be to dedicate himself or herself publicly and firmly to a renewed focus on diplomacy and peaceful negotiation.

I know that Hillary Clinton would almost certainly craft a much more effective foreign policy plan than President Bush. But I believe Barack Obama's vision of foreign policy coincides much more perfectly with my personal opinions and ideals.

Barack Obama has stated repeatedly, in public, that, if elected president, he would be willing to speak personally with any other world leader without preconditions. On his website he states:

  • The Problem: The United States is trapped by the Bush-Cheney approach to diplomacy that refuses to talk to leaders we don't like. Not talking doesn't make us look tough – it makes us look arrogant, it denies us opportunities to make progress, and it makes it harder for America to rally international support for our leadership. On challenges ranging from terrorism to disease, nuclear weapons to climate change, we cannot make progress unless we can draw on strong international support.
  • Talk to our Foes and Friends: Obama is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe. He will do the careful preparation necessary, but will signal that America is ready to come to the table, and that he is willing to lead. And if America is willing to come to the table, the world will be more willing to rally behind American leadership to deal with challenges like terrorism, and Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs.
I agree entirely with this attitude.

We are not going to help solve the world's problems, or our own, by taking our ball and going home when someone else says something that upsets us.

I believe it takes much more courage to talk to your enemies than it does to snub them.

Hillary Clinton has come out publicly against Barack Obama's diplomacy plans. During the final Democratic Primary debate that aired recently on CNN, she said, "I don't think the president should put the prestige of the presidency on the line in the first year to have meetings without preconditions with five of the worst dictators in the world."

I don't honestly see how simply speaking with a dictator would put the "prestige of the presidency" on the line. Getting chummy with a dictator? Playing golf with him? Going out to the local country club for drinks?

Setting up lucrative oil deals with dictators while turning a blind eye to egregious human rights violations by the ruling regime?

Sure. That puts the prestige of the presidency on the line.

But, talking to a dictator? Looking him in the eye, and saying, "We don't agree with your policies, and if you want to trade with us, or cooperate with us on deals to boost access to energy supplies or fight terrorism, you'll have to stop doing these things we disagree with first." That doesn't sound to me like something that would put the prestige of the presidency on the line. That, to me, sounds like good leadership.

There is also, of course, the oft-discussed question of Hillary Clinton's vote to authorize the Iraq war, and her initial (however reluctant) support of the invasion.

In the same ten-day span in October 2002, Hillary Clinton gave this speech, while Barack Obama gave this one.

Obama has been consistently opposed to the war in Iraq since before it began. A majority of the nation now believes he was right.

Now, the fact is, Barack Obama was not in the United States Senate when the resolution giving President Bush the authority to go to war. We don't know how he would have voted on it, had he been there, in the same environment as Hillary Clinton. Maybe he would have been more influenced by party pressure, if he'd already been a national-level Senator. Maybe she had seen some (falsified) intelligence Obama hadn't. Maybe she had been offered some (false) assurances from the President that he didn't know about.

For those reasons, I would be willing to cut Senator Clinton some slack on this issue (as I did Senator John Edwards, before he left the race). For those reasons I would be willing to cut her some slack on this issue, if she had ever admitted, even once, in the years since that vote, that that vote was a mistake.

But not only has she not admitted that her vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, she has officially stated that she will never apologize for that vote, or admit it was a mistake.

I understand why a powerful woman seeking the highest political office in the nation, an office which has never been held by a woman before, would be reluctant to say she had made a mistake. Trust me. I am a woman. I pay attention to things. I know how a powerful professional woman's every move is constantly being scrutinized by hateful people just waiting for the perfect moment to tear her down. So I think I understand why Senator Clinton made this decision.

But I disagree with it.

I think one of the highest hallmarks of integrity in leadership is the ability of a leader to admit he or she has made a mistake.

And, frankly, I have spent the last seven years living under an administration chock full of leaders who habitually refuse to admit mistakes. And I am sick of it. Sick, sick, sick of it.

This isn't the sort of little mistake you can just let slide, either.

This mistake helped to start a war that has lasted for more than five years. This mistake has cost billions of dollars, thousands of American lives, and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, some of them innocent. This mistake has helped to ruin the economy of one country, and has left another in chaos and bloody civil war.*

This was not a minor mistake.

*Now, before any conservative friends jump down my throat, of COURSE I think Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator and of COURSE I think the world is better off without men like him in power. And of course I support our troops. And of course I am a patriot. I still think this was the wrong war at the wrong time. I think we should have finished the job in Afghanistan and then focused on capturing Bin Laden. And THEN we could have thought about doing something about Iraq, but ONLY with international cooperation, because it is frankly not our business to go forcing our idea of democracy on other countries that haven't even attacked us without international consensus and support. You're not gonna change my mind on this, so let's just agree to disagree, okay?


Health Care

Frankly I am concerned that neither one of the Democratic frontrunners has proposed a truly workable health care solution.

In my opinion, neither one of them has actually proposed universal health care as part of their platform. The only truly "universal" healthcare system, in my view, would be a single-payer , tax-supported system that covered everyone in the nation and offered every single participant the exact same options and the exact same standard of care.

This is not what Barack Obama is proposing. This is not what Hillary Clinton is proposing, either.

What both Democratic candidates are proposing (and this is what John Edwards proposed, too, before he left the race) is a sort of cobbled-together Frankenstein system that, yes, will probably give a lot more people access to health insurance, but also does a great deal to protect the interests of existing for-profit health insurance corporations.

The sort of system both Clinton and Obama propose is actually very similar to the system that Governor Mitt Romney helped to implement in Massachusetts in 2006.

Yes, that's right: the two Democratic presidential contenders are putting forth a plan that is pretty much based on a plan implemented by a Republican Governor who is now also running for President. Who has sort of changed his tune on health care since he joined the presidential race.

(This is one of the reasons there are some Republicans out there saying Mitt Romney is not a true conservative. This is also one of the reasons there are Democrats out there saying Clinton and Obama aren't true liberals. I suspect it's probably closer to the truth to say that a lot of Republicans out there do want serious health care reform, but they are afraid to run on it.)

In the Massachusetts plan, the state offers residents without health insurance the ability to buy into a state-subsidized insurance plan. Residents who meet certain income qualifications can receive free or reduced-cost health insurance under the plan. People who already have health insurance through their employers get to keep it. And the new law put a lot more pressure on employers to provide their employees with health insurance.

But health insurance, even the state-subsidized insurance, is still mostly provided under for-profit, private health insurance companies. The same health insurance companies that have been roundly criticized for decades for balking on covering needed health services, and reneging on payment of legitimate claims. The same companies that have been stiffing both doctors and patients for decades in the name of almighty dollar.

And, state residents who don't buy into the program, either because they don't want to join it, or because they feel they can't afford it and yet still can't qualify for sufficient subsidies, have to pay a stiff fine for refusing to join. In many cases, the fine they residents are forced to pay is almost equal to what it would have cost them to purchase subsidized insurance.

Now, many people have praised the Massachusetts health care program as a brave and good first step toward solving a problem the federal government has refused to address on the state level. And I agree that it's good that some states are starting to take real action in trying to sort out the health care mess.

But the Massachusetts program has also garnered a lot of criticism since its inception, and most of that criticism has been leveled at the fines some citizens are being charged for not joining the plan. These fines have been disproportionately affecting lower-middle income families, many of whom say they still can't afford insurance even under the subsidized plan, and independent contractors-- people such as artists, musicians, writers, carpenters, plumbers, independent childcare workers, etc.-- who may earn enough income on paper to disqualify them for subsidies, but can't find affordable individual insurance, and aren't protected by an employer plan.

Because of the disproportionate effects of this fine on contractors, lower-middle-class workers and families, Barack Obama has stated that his health care plan will not mandate that all adults MUST purchase coverage. He has specifically cited the problems in Massachusetts, saying he does not want to punish working people for not being able to afford insurance, but instead wants to focus first on making insurance affordable to everyone. He has also said, however, that he will mandate that all children are covered.

Hillary Clinton has attacked this aspect of Barack Obama's plan, stating that his refusal to force everyone to participate will leave many Americans still not covered, and will interfere with his ability to negotiate with the insurance companies to drive down costs.

This is the most major difference between their two health plans.

I can see both sides of this argument, and to tell you the truth, I'm really not sure who is right. I'm not satisfied with either plan.

I know a lot of conservatives are wary of the idea of a health plan totally controlled by the government, and I think that some of their fears are justified. People DO wait longer for non-emergency diagnostic tests and surgery in Canada. Our government DOES have a history of mucking up its responsibilities to its citizens with piles of bureaucratic red tape. I still personally prefer the idea of a single-payer not-for-profit government health insurance system, though, primarily because our government is fundamentally accountable to its constituents.

The goal of a government plan would always, at least theoretically, be to provide the most people with the best health care at the lowest cost.

The fundamental goal of a privately run, for-profit insurance plan will ALWAYS be to make the insurance corporation and its shareholders money.

I respect both Senators for trying hard to come up with a good first-step solution to the health care crisis. But I do fear that we may end up with a worst-of-both-worlds scenario, having to slog through government bureaucracy AND corporate greed just to get to the doctor's office. I hope it doesn't happen that way. But it could.

So I don't really see a clear winner here. I think they both have the best of intentions, but they're working in the context of a system that is already so royally screwed up it will be very hard to fix.

Technology and the Internet

Barack Obama has stated, both in public and on his website, that he will appoint the nation's first Chief Technology Officer to oversee new developments in science, technology, and the internet. The Technology section on his website has 4,917 words.

The comparable Innovation section on Hillary Clinton's website has 1,624 words.

They both have some good ideas on this subject, but Barack Obama has presented a much more comprehensive picture on how he plans to deal with the internet and emerging technologies, and, as a blogger and a person who is very active on the internet, I appreciate the seriousness with which he has treated this subject during his campaign.

Help for Working Families

Both Clinton and Obama have proposed strengthening the Family and Medical Leave act
in similar ways. Both plan to help working parents by mandating that every worker in the nation have access to seven paid sick days. Both want to expand the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. Both want to encourage employers to provide workers with flexible scheduling options that allow them to spend more time with their families. Both want to expand early childhood education programs and make childcare more affordable.

They're both pretty awesome on this front. I'd take the happily take the policies of either (or both, on the oft mentioned "Democratic Dream Ticket") in this area.


Conclusion

I'm strongly pro-Obama on Foreign policy. A little disappointed in general on health care. I'm pro-Obama on technology policy, and pro-both candidates on programs to help working families.

So, from a policy standpoint, Obama is the clear winner for me. This is not to say I don't think Clinton also has some great policy plans. But when I look at it objectively, Obama is the candidate more aligned with my goals.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Why I Don't See Hillary Clinton's Candidacy as a Feminist Triumph

You know, a couple of posts back, when I was writing about the difficulties the next president will face, and I was writing "he or she," I got a little thrill up my spine every time I typed it. "He or she." He or SHE.

For the first time, ever. An electable-for-president She.

When I was in elementary school, my teachers (who were of course largely female, given 90%-- that is a real statistic-- of elementary school teachers are women) would always tell me, as they told the whole class, that one of the greatest things about living in the United States of America is that here, any citizen could be president. Any one of us kids, sitting there at our desks, could grow up one day to be president. They told me that I could be president.

But the older I got and the more I came to understand gender politics, the less I felt that to be true.

The older I got, the more I realized how much many men and even some women hated the word "feminist," and used it like a slur.

The older I got, the more I interacted with adult men in positions of power who actively and obviously distrusted the ability of women to make sound decisions or solve complex problems without the male help.

The older I got, the more I realized that women who try to lead forcefully are often labeled bitches or shrews, and that women who try to lead gently are often marginalized or ignored.

And when I became a mother, I witnessed first hand how society expects professional women to take on a disproportionate responsibility when it comes to housekeeping and childcare. And I witnessed first hand how the business world discriminates against mothers, offering them less pay than men or single women, denying them promotions, scrutinizing their sick days, implying that their loyalties to the company must be inherently compromised by their loyalties to their children and home. All while fathers earn higher wages and more promotions than single men, because they are seen as more reliable and more responsible.

I know this atmosphere sets up a hell of an obstacle course for an ambitious professional woman to overcome if she wants to get anywhere with her career.

And I know that women politicians face even greater criticism and scrutiny than women in most other professions.

So I am thrilled, seriously thrilled, that the time has finally come that we have a viable woman candidate for president.

But I do wish it were another woman.

I wish it were another woman, in large part, because I wish we had a woman candidate running right now completely on her own merits.

I know some people are portraying Hillary Clinton's candidacy as a triumph of the feminist movement. I don't actually believe that is the case. I would categorize Hillary Clinton's candidacy as a really good victory for feminists, sure. But a triumph? No.

Because the fact is, one of the primary reasons the Democratic Party has been willing to consider her as a viable candidate is that they know many voters will see her candidacy as a chance to re-elect Bill Clinton.

It puts me in mind of that ancient European tradition where a girl can become Queen, if, of course, there is no suitable male heir. (And yet, these "accidental" monarchs almost always seem to make fantastic leaders. I mean, hello. Queen Elizabeth the First? Kicked ASS. Way better than, say, Henry the Eighth, or King George the Third, for example. Yet no one ever seemed to catch on that it might be a good idea to just go ahead and let smart, motivated girls be queens even if they had politically acceptable brothers. LAME.)

Now, it's certainly not Hillary Clinton's fault that she has a famous husband. I mean, unless you want to argue that her husband might never have been so famous without the help of a sharp and motivated wife, in which case, I guess it is her fault he's famous, but only in a good way.

And I am well aware that Hillary Clinton is intelligent, thoughtful, educated, and very experienced in both politics and law. I know she is an excellent lawyer, a shrewd planner, and a skilled politician and I know that she is all of these things in her own right and her strengths and skills in these areas are entirely her own. I know that, for the past few years, she has served as a very productive and respected Senator without any obvious involvement on the part of her husband.

So, I am certainly not trying to hold Hillary Clinton's history as a First Lady against her personally, or as a candidate.

And I know that, all "legacy candidate" issues aside, her historic candidacy will open doors for girls and women for years to come.

But I wish knew for a fact that a woman without a last name made famous by a man could run for president, right now, and win.

And I wish that Hillary Clinton herself seemed more confident that she could run on her own merits, and leave Bill Clinton, and Bill Clinton's legacy, at home.

I agree with Gloria Steinem that a black woman with Barack Obama's experience and background probably couldn't get elected president in the current climate, or even be considered a serious contender. Of course that would be unlikely. She'd have not one, but two strikes against her, facing entrenched race AND gender discrimination. She'd lack Hillary Clinton's famous last name.

But, I do differ with Gloria Steinem in that I would say a black woman with Barack Obama's experience and background SHOULD be able to be elected president. Such a woman SHOULD be a serious contender, especially if she had the same record of attracting a diverse group of supporters from across party lines as Barack Obama, and commanded the same sort of respect as an inspirational public speaker as Barack Obama does.

I would vote for her.

And that, in fact, brings me to the second reason I wish the first-ever Electable She were another woman.

Based on certain policy issues, campaign integrity issues, and personality issues, I don't want vote for Hillary Clinton.

I wish Hillary the best of luck. I really do. I would love to see a woman be president.

But, I'm voting for Obama on Tuesday.

And in my next post, I'll tell you why.

Deconstructing the Narrative

The mainstream media likes to tell certain kinds of stories.

Stories with classic plots that are easy to follow. Stories with tried-and-true themes that are quickly and nearly universally recognized. Stories with characters of a certain stock type, personalities painted in broad, simple strokes.

Stories with these qualities lend themselves to ten minute segments. Stories like these are easy to craft thirty minutes before a broadcast, to fill in a time slot left empty by a last-minute canceled interview. Stories like these don’t require hours of careful investigative reporting to prepare.

And stories like these can be absorbed and remembered by viewers with minimal effort. No special attention or critical thought is required to digest such classically structured tales. A harried mother, half-listening to the morning newscast as she tries to get three sleepy kids ready and out the door before the school bus comes, can grasp the basics of a story if it’s presented in such a way that it resembles many stories she’s heard before. The construction worker sitting half-asleep on the couch after working two shifts can get the gist of the night’s news if he already knows how each segment is going to end before it even starts.

This is the Hero with a Hidden Dark Side. This is the Villain with a Hidden Tragic Past. This is the Damsel in Distress. This is the Terrifying Psychotic Killer. This is the Thieving Rich Man. This is the Cheating Wife.

This is the Moment of Comeuppance.

This is the Surprise Plot Twist That Is Not Really So Much of a Surprise.

These stories are easy to for reporters to write, and easy for viewers to understand.

Never mind whether or not they are insightful.

Never mind whether they are accurate representations of the real life events they portray.

In fact, the mainstream media likes stories like this so much that when the real-life people involved in these stories do something or say something that adds some nuance to their character that doesn’t fit a stock type, or undermines a ready-made, classic plot, all too often, the mainstream media doesn’t want to acknowledge it.

They don’t report on it. Or they do report on it, but try to spin it in such a way as to make it seem like it still fits a template already chosen. Or they hold it up as an example of an exception to prove a rule.

This attitude never seems to be in fuller force than it is during coverage of a political race. And the current presidential primary season is no exception.

On the Democratic Side, we have the Seasoned Incumbent, a Shrewd Politician with a Slightly Controversial Past who is No Stranger to Dirty Washington Politics But That Might Be a Good Thing.

This year’s Surprise Plot Twist, of course, is that the Seasoned Incumbent happens to be a WOMAN. [Cue artfully raised eyebrows.]

But that’s easy enough to deal with: we’ll just tell the people who don’t like the idea of a woman president that she’s either a Bra-Burning Feminist Ballbuster or a Pretender Riding on the Coattails of Her Husband. And of course, when she does well in the primaries it will Only Be Because Sexually Frustrated Middle-Aged Women Voted for Her Out of Sympathy, and Not Because She Is At All Inspiring or Likeable as a Candidate.

For the people who do like her, she can be an Inspirational Matriarch who is being Unfairly Maligned by the Sexist Media. [We can get away with slapping that Sexist Media label on ourselves without consequences, because it’s still pretty socially acceptable for Blustery Male Media Pundits to patronize women.]

Then we have the Charismatic White Knight Challenger who is Young, Very Charming and Stylish [Oh, let’s not forget Clean and Articulate! That was a great gift from poor Senator Foot-in-Mouth. We got a lot of laughs out of that guy before we pushed him out of the race for not being Articulate himself.] But of course, we must consider the fact that the Challenger is Inexperienced, and so, Possibly Na├»ve, and that therefore his candidacy could be a nothing more than a trumped-up Fairy Tale. [Scored a freebee again! Thanks, Former Popular President Who Either Doesn’t Believe in Term Limits or Maybe Just Feels Guilt About the Infidelity! We don’t even have to try to make up controversial labels for this Challenger guy—his opponents are doing it for us!]

This year’s Second Surprise Plot Twist is that the White Knight happens to be black. [BONUS! Two Plot Twists? This will kill in the ratings! Cue the Stuffy Presidential Historians grinning like Kids in a Candy Store!]

For people who like the idea of a black president, he can be both an Heir to Kennedy and The Realization of the Dreams of Dr. King, Who Will Finally Heal the Racial Divide in Our Country!

For people who don’t like that idea, he can just be That Black Candidate Who is Obviously Really Only Popular Because Lots of Black People Are Voting for Him Just Because He’s Black and It’s Not Like They Are Voting For Him Because They Think He Has Effective Policies or Would Be a Good Leader or Anything—It’s Just Like When They Voted for That Wacko Jesse Jackson, So You Closet Racists Don’t Have to Panic Because He Won’t Win—Just Ignore All the White College Graduates Voting for Him Too Because We All Know a Liberal Education Warps the Mind Anyway.

[Whew! Thanks again, Former President Guy! We would have looked kind of bad if we had implied all that ourselves. It’s a lot harder for us to get away with blatant racial baiting these days, despite the wonders it does for the ratings. But you can get away with more awkward comments than we can because that one Venerable Feminist Black Author made that joke one time that you were The First Black President. And once you say something vaguely insensitive, we can totally blow it out of proportion and milk it for all it’s worth.]

For a while we also had the Nice Small-Town Southern Boy who Made Good and Now Wants to Give Back to The Poor on the list, but we got kind of tired of that story last election cycle, and, let’s face it— he’s not nearly as exciting as the other two—so, this time around, we shorted him on coverage and mostly shut him out of the debates until he got frustrated and left the campaign trail to be with his Poor Dying Wife. [Heh. Sucker.]

And the other early candidates on the Democratic short list made for some great Crazy Fringe Leftist and Mysterious Weirdo jokes!

On the Republican side [which—let’s face it—we’re not paying nearly as much attention to what with those great Plot Twists happening in the Democratic Party], we have this primary’s best candidate for Ambitious Flip Flopper with a Large Fortune—that one always plays well on the interview circuit. He’s an Unconventional Christian, too, which is a nice sub-plot.

For the first time in recent memory we have a Real Honest-to-God Evangelical [Who let that guy in, anyway? He’s an actual minister? What a drag! Damn that Colbert Bump. At least he’s got a Has-Been Action Star with a Cult Internet Following backing him. That’s good for kicks.]

We have a classic Wacko Libertarian with a Cult Following who wants to Dismantle the Government. [Make sure you get only his craziest-looking supporters on camera—try to find someone on stilts in face paint.]

And, returning [for the—wait—how many times has he tried to run, again? Look that up so we can mention it casually in the context of something else while pretending we are not actually bringing up his advanced age] we have the Principled, Underappreciated Genuine War Hero who is an Occasional Party Renegade and likes to Tell it Like it Is. We almost shut him down, but then we had a change of heart. We’re really thinking this may finally be His Year.

It’s a thrilling cast of characters, to be sure. And what a gripping backdrop for the tale! A nation at war. An energy crisis. A housing crisis. An economy on the brink of collapse. Rampant government corruption. Greedy corporations run amok. Foreign imports poisoning the population. Children dying from things like asthma attacks and tooth abscesses because they can’t get basic medical care.

[Actually, that is quite a list of serious problems, there. ]

[Do you, um, think that, uh, maybe this tanking economy thing might start to affect the mainstream media’s advertising revenue? ]

[And you know, just between you and me, I’ve had a really hard time lately getting the insurance company to pay for my kid’s physical therapy. And the studio just keeps whittiling away at our insurance benefits every year, while the premiums keep going up! I’m telling you, it’s highway robbery.]

[You don’t suppose that maybe, just maybe, instead of the same old stories, the American people might want us to, oh, I dunno, actually talk in-depth about how these candidates plans to FIX some of these problems? ]

[Nah . . .]

I know! Let’s think up forty different ways to ask the Democratic candidates whether they think this election’s campaign is all about race and gender! We can go on and on about whether the country is “ready” for a woman or minority president!

And then when that peters out, we can focus on the experience/inexperience thing. [Be sure not to mention the fact that Barack Obama actually has a couple more years’ actual legislative experience than Hillary Clinton does if you count his time in the state legislature, though. That could spoil our whole image of him as a fresh-faced kid. And be SURE you don’t let him plug his website on the air. There is WAY too much detailed policy information there. We need everyone to think he’s more style than substance, or the narrative breaks down.]

We’ll get some more traction over ridiculous email rumors that the Charismatic White Knight Challenger is actually a Brainwashed Secret Muslim Operative Who Hates America. [Handle this one with care. Be sure not to let anyone ask why it would be such a terrible, evil thing anyway to have a Muslim president in a country that is supposed to value religious freedom. Or why so many people automatically associate Islam with brainwashed terrorists, when the vast majority of Muslims around the world are peace-loving moderates. If Average Americans start remembering that most Muslims are normal people, they might start asking us to stop using the Faceless Muslim Terrorist character type. And that one is really useful for scaring the crap out of folks.]

And then we can look at a few polls that show the Seasoned Incumbent losing against the Principled War Hero, and ask if her History of Controversy makes her Too Much of a Divider, all the while signaling with a wink and a nudge that what we actually mean is that this country is Not Ready for a Woman President because Men Won’t Vote for People with Ovaries. [Be sure not to talk much about Pakistan while we do this. If people remember that a country with a small but vocal faction of radical conservatives who are so anti-feminist they don’t even want women’s faces to be seen outside of the home once managed to elect that woman former Prime Minister who was recently assassinated to prevent the Pakistanis from electing her AGAIN, they might start to wonder: In such a socially progressive country as the United States, is it really that the electorate WON’T elect a woman president, or is it just that the media keeps telling the electorate they CAN’T?]

By the end of all this, we hope the viewers will be so confused and frustrated about elections and government they will throw up their hands in despair.

And then we can remind them that the best way to cure despair is to buy things!

From our advertisers.

Friday, February 01, 2008

If Not Now, When? If Not Me, Whom?

I don't ordinarily talk much about politics on this blog.

(A quick glance at my sidebar, showing "Politics" as one of my top five tags, might of course convince a reader otherwise, but , if you look more carefully, you'll realize that the few general tags I use are rather heavily weighted in the tag list, given I'm prone to rather esoteric tagging. As of today, out of 182 posts in the past three years, 15 are tagged with "Politics." That means I don't talk about politics around here about 92% of the time.)

The reason I don't talk about politics much on this blog is not because I don't think much about politics. I think about politics quite regularly, actually. Really, pretty much every day. There's a reason I've been jonesin' for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and it's not just because of the naughty, naughty things I would like to do to Stephen Colbert.*

I've actually been known to watch CSPAN voluntarily.

And the reason I don't talk about politics much on this blog is not because I don't have considered, well-developed political views. Anyone who reads enough of my comments on other people's blogs probably knows by now that, even when I'm talking with people I know will disagree with my views, I openly and willingly identify myself as a liberal, a progressive, and a feminist.** I'll even accept the term damned hippie.

I've got the long hair. I might as well rock it. (Though I'll hasten to point out that damned dirty hippie does not technically apply in my case. I do shower daily, people.)

The reason I don't talk about politics much on this blog is that I came to blogging to be part of a certain blogging community. A community of intelligent, articulate individuals who like to talk about the ordinary triumphs and struggles of their everyday lives in insightful and revealing ways that illuminate the common human experience in a way that makes me feel both truer to myself and more connected to the rest of the world. Many of these people (but certainly not all) are fellow parents. Many (but certainly not all) are fellow women. Many are professional or quasi-professional writers, or foodies, or amateur photographers, or someone else with whom I share some random common interest. But every link in that blogroll there off to the left goes to a blogger who has written something that resonated with me, that deepened my understanding of a universal mystery, that seemed to reflect some feeling I have felt myself.

I enjoy being a part of this community.

And I have read political blogs. And political blog posts by writers of non-political blogs. And I have read the comments on political blogs and political blog posts by writers of non-political blogs.

And so I know that, all too often, when people-- even very intelligent, usually kind people who are normally infallibly polite-- discuss politics on the internet, civility goes out the window.

I know that many people are as blindly passionate about supporting their party or candidate of choice as they are their favorite hometown sports team. Discussions over politics, like discussions over football, seem somehow to wake some sort of fierce tribal instinct in certain people that causes some of them to say things and do things they might not say or do in any other context.

And I know that the faceless nature of the internet makes it that much easier for a person to say something careless or insulting without worrying about the consequences.

I see how quickly discussions over politics can get out of hand, even among bloggers who have formed strong relationships over common experience that has nothing to do with their political affiliation. I have seen far too many brilliant, thoughtful people, caught up in the heat of an argument, write ill-considered words that imply that other equally brilliant, thoughtful people must be gibbering idiots just because they have a different point of view.

I don't want to host that kind of crap on my blog.

I'm here to connect with others. Not to disconnect.

However, I also believe that whichever candidate wins the current race for the United States Presidency will face unprecedented challenges. He or she will walk into office facing not just one but TWO ongoing wars-- one in Iraq, one in Afghanistan-- and an increased threat of terrorism. He or she will inherit a record national deficit. A tanking economy. A housing crisis. A credit crisis. A health care crisis. An atmosphere of international mistrust. And a nation deeply, bitterly divided over how to resolve these issues. The future of our nation depends on our next leader's ability to resolve many serious issues created or exacerbated by our current leader's mistakes.

I have some opinions about the best ways to fix the problems we face. It may be presumptuous of me, but, I believe some of those opinions are worthy of discussion.

I also have some observations about the political process, and the coverage of that process by the mainstream media, that I think may be useful to some who might not have the time or energy to follow political campaigns (and the coverage of those campaigns) closely.

So, I have decided, perhaps against my better judgment, that over the next few days leading up to the Super Tuesday primaries, and possibly also occasionally during the weeks thereafter, I am going to write some serious posts here about politics.

I am not trying to alienate or exclude any readers may who hold views opposed to my own. I welcome civil discussion about the issues I'll be raising, and I hope that everyone who comments will do so in the spirit of furthering serious and thoughtful exploration of solutions to the problems we all face together as a society.

I am not claiming to be a political science expert. I am not claiming to be a media expert.

I am just an educated woman who gives a damn.

With a blog.

*Apologies to my lovely husband, who is nearly just as hot as Stephen Colbert, and is also of course the only man for me. While I'm awake, anyway.
**Yes, Virginia: There is such a thing as a lipstick-and-heels-wearing, bra-owning, man-loving, stay-at-home-mothering FEMINIST. I am one of them. Nice to meet you. Step on my rights to educate myself, vote, work for equal pay, marry whom I please, divorce whom I please, or own my own property, and I WILL kick your ass with these heels.