Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards Revisited

Standing in the supermarket checkout line the other day, I noticed the face of Elizabeth Edwards on the cover of the latest issue of "People" magazine. The accompanying headline asked something along the lines of "how much more can she take?".

It suddenly dawned on me that over the course of the past few months she'd had to contend with two books (Halperin & Heilemann's "Game Change" and Andrew Young's "The Politician"), national headlines announcing that she and her husband John had separated, and, most recently, her husband's mistress lasciviously posed in the pages of "GQ" while psychobabbling inanities. How much more indeed?

Much of the media attention mentioned above has painted Elizabeth in an unfavorable light, as if they--or any of us, for that matter--can possibly know what it's been like to walk in her shoes...to lose a child, to fight the battle with cancer once, only to learn that it had returned, and was terminal. Finally, Elizabeth Edwards has had to deal with a very public betrayal by her partner in marriage for over thirty years, with every detail and scene played out in public. Perhaps, as some of the stories mention, she was ambitious. God forbid we're still dealing with the absurd resentments and recriminations that ambitious and intelligent women have faced throughout our history! Perhaps she's had her moments of anger, and even paranoia. It would seem, in looking back at the 'big picture', that she wouldn't be human if she hadn't experienced both. I suspect the devious and hurtful actions of John Edwards and Rielle Hunter might even break the spirit of a saint, let alone a mere mortal.

I once supported John Edwards, and believed his populist agenda was genuine. The fact that he has so thoroughly disgraced himself does not mean that the issues or causes he once championed were without merit, however. Now, quite frankly, I tend to believe that Elizabeth was the more thoughtful, and progressive, of the two. It certainly appears she was more of a policy "wonk" than John. So, if at any point she feels the desire to speak out on those issues again, I would hope she realizes the podium remains available, and her voice is still respected. The choice, of course, needs to be hers.

In the meantime, for her sake, I wish her restorative quiet time, and inner peace.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tea Party Gone Berserk

It's Sunday evening, March 21st, and the Senate's version of the health care bill has now been passed by the House of Representatives. Additional debate will take place in the House over the next few days concerning a number of revisions to the bill, and the Senate is poised (according to Majority Leader Harry Reid) to accept those proposals.
Citizens who oppose the expansion of coverage to the roughly thirty-two million Americans who currently struggle without that protection are free to vent thier frustration in voting booths this November. In fact, that participation is to be expected and welcomed in our democracy.
Unfortunately, many of the so-called "Tea Party" protestors exhibited anything but democratic tendencies this past weekend as the House debate reached its climax. Their "true colors" (to borrow from the Cyndi Lauper tune) included a disturbing mix of racism, homophobia, threats of violence, and spit. Grassroots "patriotism"? I don't think so.
Congressman John Lewis, a leader in the civil rights movement who has represented Georgia's 5th congressional district since 1987, was repeatedly subjected to the n-word. Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver, representing Missouri's 5th congressional district, in addition to being a United Methodist pastor, endured the same treatment, but was also spat upon.
Congressman Barney Frank, who has represented the 4th congressional district in Massachusetts since 1981, and who is a noted gay rights activist, was subjected to the f-word several times over the weekend.
Not merely content with personal abuse, however, the tea partiers touted several particularly menacing signs during their protests. Perhaps the most disturbing example, and one that had been duplicated several times over--so it wasn't a case that "merely"involved a single mis-guided individual--featured the image of a handgun with the legend: "if Brown can't stop it, a Browning can". The threat of violence is clear. It's 2010, and yet, it seemed all that was missing was the white sheets.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Farewell, Mr. O'Malley

The sky seems a little less blue, and the birds heralding the imminent arrival of spring are sounding somewhat muted...at least to my ears. So, what lies behind this general malaise I've experienced the past few days? Have I been worn down by the never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, by the cost in human life, not to mention the financial drain approaching one trillion dollars? Is it the incessant din of partisan wrangling over health care, jobs, financial reform, and every other issue on the national horizon? Could the cause be something simpler? Perhaps a visceral reaction set off by the unwelcome return of Rielle Hunter and "Johnny Edwards" to the national media consciousness?
While there's certainly nothing to inspire a 'dance of joy' associated with any of the above, the reason is actually a more decidedly personal one.
Mr. O'Malley passed away this week, just shy of his 112th birthday. If I didn't know better, I'd be scrambling for the record books to measure this achievement. I didn't have the pleasure of getting to know him until late in his life, but he nevertheless provided me with new insights, and caused me to re-examine some long-standing priorities.
Mr. O'Malley looked forward to each and every day, and enjoyed life to the fullest. He was oblivious to a person's race, age, sexual orientation, political beliefs, or appearance. Quite simply, he did not judge. He enjoyed the company of a wide assortment of people, and always welcomed the stranger. Mr. O'Malley manifested love without reservation. I found myself believing that the spark, or light, that was clearly present in his eyes just might answer questions of faith more succinctly (and accurately) than many a theologian or religious text.
O'Malley happened to be a golden retriever, and, as previously mentioned, he was just shy of his 16th birthday ("dog years"). He was a gentle, smiling soul, and I will miss him. I wish I'd had the opportunity to know him sooner, but I will be forever grateful that our paths ultimately crossed.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Tom DeLay: He's back...

For anyone concerned about the relative silence of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay since his ill-advised appearance on season nine of "Dancing With the Stars", it would appear he's back, and once again engaging in his particular brand of rhetoric:

From a post by Sam Stein, stein@huffingtonpost.com:

Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay called Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) "brave" on Sunday for launching a one-man filibuster of unemployment benefits, arguing that they dissuaded people from going out and finding work.

DeLay made these remarks on Fox News, and though it might appear surprising to some, Monica Crowley pushed him to explain his premise regarding the unemployed:

Crowley: People are unemployed because they want to be?
Delay: well, it is the truth. and people in the real world know it. And they have friends and they know it. Sure, we ought to be helping people that are unemployed find a job, but we also have budget considerations that are incredibly important, especially now that Obama is spending monies that we don't have.

DeLay went on to describe allocating federal funds for the unemployed as "unsound policy".

There will always be those who make every effort to take advantage of "the system", whether it's Bernie Madoff operating the largest Ponzi scheme in history, AIG paying out obscene bonuses after accepting $85 billion in federal (taxpayer) money, or the relatively few individuals who choose to "milk" unemployment benefits. To hear Tom DeLay focus exclusively on the unemployed (and the rather limited "safety net" currently in place) is simply sad, not to mention wrong. However, his social views are generally quite well known: promoter of the "birther" conspiracy, opponent of government checks on corporate power, anti-labor rights, pro-life, anti-immigration (legal or illegal), pro-guns, and anti any teaching of evolution in schools. Quite frankly, if I were looking for a rational exchange of political views, I'm not sure I'd start here.
What is truly lamentable, however, is DeLay's reference to President Obama "spending monies we don't have".
It's important to look at how we got into the financial mess we find ourselves in. There's no doubt that both of our major political parties deserve blame for reckless spending. At times, it appears the only difference is in spending priorities. Former Congressman DeLay has opposed both funding the Environmental Protection Agency ("Gestapo of government"), and increasing federal funds for expanding health coverage. He voted in favor of prayer in school, and against grants for black and hispanic colleges. He voted in favor of limiting prescription drug benefits for Medicare recepients, and in favor of privatizing social security. On the other hand, DeLay never met a defense appropriations bill or weapons system he didn't support, and was an enthusiastic supporter of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It's far too easy to scapegoat powerless segments of our population, and to toss about "red meat" slogans for political gain. Conversely, it's too easy to villify individuals like Tom DeLay, instead of giving serious consideration to the issues. Perhaps the key lies in fully undertanding the consequences of his actions, as well as our own. We may be able to brush aside political rhetoric, but it's the aforementioned consequences that are so sobering. To put the federal deficit in perspective, I invite you to click on this link:
http://costofwar.com (National Priorities Project).
It may be somewhat important to view Tom DeLay "in context", but, in the long run, he's the least of our worries.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Redux Mr. Smith

I originally posted this over a year-and-a-half ago when I began this blog.  Given the recent debacle--otherwise known as the debt ceiling debate-- the country witnessed in the House and Senate, I found myself thinking about this film yet again.  I decided to re-post this, with a few edits, in order to remind myself why I refuse to lose all faith, and why I'm still interested in political possibilities.  It also reminded me to look for the truly positive examples in life, and Alex Petroff springs to mind  (see "Paging Ben Affleck: Working Villages is calling..."

     For those not familiar with "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", it's a1939 film by producer/director Frank Capra (see "It's A Wonderful Life"). Many consider this classic comedy/drama to be Capra's greatest achievement. James Stewart established himself as a leading actor in the role of Jefferson Smith, a wide-eyed innocent idealist who is plucked from obscurity to fill out the term of a Senate seat left vacant by the sudden death of Senator Samuel Foley, a largely spineless and compliant character in the decidedly corrupt political machine presided over by boss Jim Taylor. Taylor, along with Governor Hopper and Senator Paine, are determined to appoint someone who won't ask questions, or do anything that might disturb the machine's backdoor dealings. Political parties aren't identified, nor is the state in question... instead, Capra leaves us with the realization that this could be anywhere, and corrupt politicians come in all flavors.
     Jefferson Smith, however, seems to believe in the basic decency of every person he encounters, and he maintains a passionate love affair with the United States. He's a wide-eyed patriot who reverently recites the words of Lincoln and Jefferson, and is awe-struck by the sights and sounds of Washington D.C. Smith feels unworthy to join the Senate, and is completely unaware he's being set-up by those he respects most. Initially too stunned by this betrayal to defend himself, he finally takes to the Senate floor and initiates a filibuster to postpone a bill boss Taylor has engineered, and to prove his own innocence & integrity.
     The film's climactic scene illustrates the difference one good person, standing on truth, can make in the face of overwhelming adversity.
     When it was first released, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" was attacked by the Washington press corps and by politicians in the U.S. Congress, both of whom labeled the film as anti-American and pro-communist for its portrayal of corruption in the government. Today, it is recognized as a paen to individual strength, integrity, and decency.
     In this day and age of out-of-control partisan bickering and gridlock, I, for one, am missing Mr. Smith.