How Was Your Election Day? This Was Mine

Nov. 6, 2012

6:00 a.m.  My first thought this morning is the same as my last before dropping off to sleep last night: Election Day.   This is it. It’s been such a long campaign season. I’m glad it’s finally almost over. I’m sick of it all. Are we actually about to elect as president one of those plutocrats who crashed the economy four years ago? Only in America . . . .

6:15-7:15: A mighty struggle this morning to keep thoughts of the election out of my mind during meditation and spiritual reading. I keep directing my mind back to the words of my “passage meditation”: “All that we are is the result of what we have thought; we are formed and molded by our thoughts . . .”

7:30: On my way to the gym, I go over the list of people I pray for each day. I stumble over the last inclusion – the prayer for President Obama.  I’ve been praying it over the last four years: “May the president be remembered as the best the United States has ever had. May he be filled with loving kindness. May he be safe from dangers, internal and external. May he be well in body, in heart, and in mind. And may he find peace and be truly happy.”

8:00-8:30: I’m on the elliptical machine at the gym now. I think about that Obama prayer. A lot of good it’s done! This guy has been such a disaster: droning, torture, a Bush-like “surge” in Afghanistan, renewal of the Patriot Act, restrictions on civil liberties, extension of tax cuts for the wealthy, surrender on the public option in healthcare, refusal to explain and defend himself in the face of relentless Republican attacks and GOP rejection of bipartisanship . . . . If he’s reelected, he’ll probably immediately abandon his base again. I feel so angry about that. He just failed to grasp which side his bread is buttered on? Maybe he’s not as smart as we thought.

8:50-9:00: I’m walking home now. Obama actually called us “professional leftists” and “whiners.” I can’t get that out of my mind.  And now he’s ever so cooperatively begging for our vote! What gall!  How arrogant! I feel so insulted, I could almost vote for Romney!

9:15: Now I’m preparing breakfast. Would things really change that much if Obama lost? Can Mitt Romney be much worse? Well, there are those Supreme Court nominations in the offing. All we need are more Clarence Thomases. . . . I’m confused.

9:30: While eating breakfast, I tune in to Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now.” Election Day focus is on the Republican campaign to suppress the vote. Their crusade strikes me as outrageous, unpatriotic, and treasonous. Why didn’t the Democrats do something about reforming the electoral process when they had the chance? The whole thing is so corrupt, what with “Citizens United,” voting machine conflicts of interest, redistricting, and voter suppression aimed at minorities and Democrats? Why are we still discussing these things on Election Day? The electoral system should have been reformed immediately after the 2000 “hanging chad” disaster. Obama really screwed up by not taking advantage of the mandate for change and the super majority he enjoyed in Congress in 2008. I’m so pissed.

10:00: I’m off to vote in the Madison Southern High School gymnasium. It’s busy there. This is a Red State. I catch myself thinking harsh thoughts about Kentuckians. Then I see some friends. We exchange pleasantries. I approach the desk to sign in to vote. They ask for my ID. I search my wallet for one without a photo – I just don’t want to give in to this voter ID nonsense. I’m white, so the ID works.  I guess they don’t require a photo of whites.

10:15: I sign in to vote. The ballot is a single page and surprisingly uncomplicated – nothing like the 12 page ballot they’re using to suppress the vote in Florida. I’m directed to a desk (with privacy shields) alongside two other voters. This is different from what we used to do in Madison County. In 2000 and before we went into a curtained booth and voted via Diebold machine. I never did trust those things; still don’t.

10:25: I fill out votes for City Council members – searching for names I recognize, most of them former colleagues at Berea College where I used to teach. They’re all “liberal” enough, I guess.

10:27: I VOTE FOR GREEN PARTY CANDIDATE, JILL STEIN. I’m thinking, the Democrats and Obama simply have to get the message that they’ve lost people like me. Anyway, since Kentucky’s such a red state, my vote for president is otherwise meaningless. Now if I were in Ohio or Florida, it would be a different story. I would vote for Obama there. (In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I spent a Saturday afternoon phoning Ohioans to get out the vote for Obama. That’s how conflicted I am.)

11:30: I Skype a friend of mine in Amsterdam. He’s a self-exiled former priest who holds dual citizenship in Great Britain and in the U.S. He’s chosen to boycott this election.  Over the last few weeks he’s been chiding me for supporting Obama. “How can you do that? he’s been asking. Didn’t you watch the third debate? On foreign policy, Obama and Romney are on the same page. It’s absolutely selfish to vote for Obama because he’ll somehow protect your Social Security. The man’s a war criminal – droning, torturing, eliminating civil liberties, suspending habeas corpus. . . . The Democrats are as corrupt as the Republicans. The whole system has to come down, and that means going through a period of purgation that will be hard as hell, but it has to happen.” My friend is pleased when he hears I’ve voted for Stein.

12:00: I have to break away from the Skype conversation to answer a knock on the door. It happens to be another ex-priest. (Our parish is loaded with them – four of us.) We sit on our front porch and talk politics. My friend agrees that the system must come down. What form do you think it will the disintegration take, I ask? “Last week answered that question,” he says. He was referring to Hurricane Sandy. “That even woke up the business suits,” he says. “Did you see that Bloomberg’s magazine ran a headline last week, ‘It’s Global Warming, Stupid’?  Once the suits wake up like that, you’ll see changes.”  He continues, “The dollar’s going to be devalued; the European Union’s going to hell, and simple demographics are running against the fascists. I mean, the whole thing’s disintegrating before our very eyes. And you’re asking ‘what form will it take?’ Open your eyes, man.  And hang on to your seatbelt!” Then he added with a nod towards our status as septuagenarians, “I don’t think you and I will live to see this particular ‘Berlin Wall’ fall. Thank God.”

1:00-5:00: All afternoon I compulsively check my Kindle Fire for . . .  I’m not sure for what. Am I hoping for some news about “who’s winning?” I know the polls won’t close for hours. Still, there might be something about exit polls. All I find though are more last-minute appeals for money from Move-On and others. They’re still asking for telephone calls to undecideds on behalf of Elizabeth Warren. Those appeals have been making me feel guilty for months. Instead of phoning, I watch the end of “Platoon.” It reminds me of Obama’s broken promises about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, and the likelihood that no matter who wins, we’ll soon be attacking Iran at Israel’s behest.

5:30: I go for supper to the home of a friend of mine (also a former priest!). We warm up with Manhattans. Then a spaghetti dinner with my friend’s famous meatballs. Always a treat. My friend, yet another one of us ex-priests, is a self-identified curmudgeon. He’s claims he has given up completely on politics. He’s convinced that nothing in the world ever really changes. Romney and Obama are essentially the same. Life goes on no matter what. The best we can do is tend our own gardens. I think about “Platoon” and find myself thinking he may be right.

7:30: The first returns are coming in now. We keep switching back and forth between FOX, MSNBC, and CNN. The reporters are obviously enamored of their “magic boards” and high tech gadgets. By 9:30 Romney has a lead in electoral votes. But a subtext of the evening (except on FOX) is that Obama will close the deal in Ohio and even, it seems, in Florida. We’ll see.

10:00: I return home and tune into Amy Goodman’s Election Night Coverage. She’s interviewing Green Party candidate, Jill Stein along with Ohio Congressman, Dennis Kucinich. Instead of simply reporting on the “horse race,” they discuss the need for a third party in the U.S.

10:30: Still on Amy Goodman, Lee Rowland of the Brennan Center for Justice along with author Greg Palast report on voter suppression efforts in Florida and Ohio. Palast talks about his experience in Toledo where voters waited in a line of more than a thousand people. Once they got to their destination, they were not allowed to vote, but were given applications for absentee ballots. Incredible!

11:15: They’ve called the election for President Obama. Reportedly, his camp is already talking about a”Grand Bargain” with the Republicans. Bob Herbert of Demos says it’s going to hurt the most vulnerable. Incredible!

12:00: I finally go to bed.

The Highly Dispensable Nation (And Whom to Vote for in Two Weeks)

I watched the third debate the night before last, and at first came away thoroughly discouraged. What’s the use? I thought. These guys are both the same. I almost cancelled my plans to host a “Ten Days to Win” phone call party at my home next Saturday. But while it’s true that the third debate revealed remarkable similarity between the candidates on foreign policy, their differences on domestic policy kept me from cancelling. Even more so did consideration of the candidates’ diverse bases of support, and the hope that Obama’s base offers (in contrast to the man himself).  Let me explain.

To begin with, the third debate displayed two candidates converging around at least 10 highly destructive myths:

  1. The U.S. is the one indispensable nation in the world.
  2. U.S. foreign policy is aimed at fostering “a peaceful planet.”
  3. Those same policies favor democracy, free elections, international law, and human rights – especially those of women.
  4. Terrorism, whose causes remain mysterious, must be stopped at all costs.
  5. To that end, drone strikes anywhere in the world are good and necessary.
  6. Iran is a major threat to us, so sanctions against it are reasonable and moral.
  7. Nuclear capability is a crime.
  8. Dollars spent on the military are a valid measure of commitment to national security.
  9. Israel’s policies must be supported as if they were our own.
  10. Climate change is irrelevant to foreign policy.

Of course none of those ten myths is true. What is true is that:

  1. In terms of “a peaceful planet,” democracy, free elections, international law, human rights (especially those of women) the world would be better off if the current incarnation of the U.S. dropped off the planet. (Please think about that. I am serious here.)
  2. Terrorism’s causes are not at all mysterious and almost all are connected with U.S. foreign policy. In fact, as Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman pointed out long ago, the U.S. is the most prominent purveyor of “wholesale terrorism” – state terrorism – in the world. What it has declared war against are expressions of “retail terrorism” which are small potatoes (even 9/11) by comparison – basically “blowback” to U.S. state terrorism.
  3. Extrajudicial killings even by remote control contravene the “international law” both presidential candidates so solemnly invoked. (By the way, according to Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, the Benghazi debacle was in direct response to the June 4th 2012 drone killing of the insurgent theologian, Abu Ayahya al Libi. At 49, he was a hero of the Libyan Revolution and one of the most senior members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Revenge was sworn at his death and postponed till the anniversary of 9/11. This has received no mention I’m aware of in the mainstream press – certainly none in the presidential debates.)
  4. As Joe Biden pointed out, Iran poses no threat at all to the United States. On the contrary, for the past three years and more Iran has been the one threatened on a daily basis by Israel which has itself covertly developed deliverable nuclear weapons. So if any nation has reason to launch a preemptive attack, it would be Iran against Israel. But no such threat has been made.
  5. What does “nuclear capability” mean anyway?
  6. Absolute security is a goal impossible to attain. Its pursuit via already astronomical military spending benefits no one but the military-industrial complex.
  7. Israel has been an international outlaw at least since November 22, 1967, when the U.N. unanimously adopted Resolution 242 forbidding the occupation of Palestinian territories annexed in the Six Day War. Israel’s assault on Gaza, its secret development of nuclear weapons, and its crimes on the high seas interdicting ships bringing aid to Palestinians interned in Gaza have only compounded Israel’s fundamental crime of illegal occupation. Hence U.S. support of the outlaw nation of Israel not only contradicts U.S. national interests but amounts to aiding and abetting criminal activity.
  8. Given its importance to the future of the planet, climate change should have been the focus not only of this “foreign policy” debate, but of the entire presidential campaign. It was mentioned not once in any of the debates.

How should awareness of these myths and their evident contradictions influence us in the general elections just two weeks off? Here’s what I’m thinking:

  1. There is no doubt that the presidential candidates have adopted almost identical approaches to foreign policy.
  2. However they differ on domestic policy in non-trivial ways:

a)      Romney wants to retain tax breaks for the 1% while Obama does not.

b)      Romney intends to further deregulate the market undoing the mild reforms introduced after the crash of 2008. Obama will resist such measures.

c)       Following the lead of Paul Ryan’s “economic plan,” Romney will drastically cut domestic programs for the country’s most vulnerable. He will attempt to privatize Social Security, make Medicare a voucher program, and do something similar with Medicaid. Meanwhile, Obama’s austerity measures will be less drastic though also basically unfair – because austerity for the 99% is unnecessary in the face of the nation’s unprecedented concentration of wealth.

d)      Romney will appoint more neo-conservatives to the Supreme Court when the opportunity arrives.

e)      On social policy, life with Romney will be harder on women, gays, the poor and labor unions.

To repeat, while such differences are not as wide as some of us might desire, they are not at all unimportant. However one really important difference remains for me and is determinative for my voting.

That difference is the one between Romney’s base of support and that of Obama. Romney’s base is made up of Tea Party folks. They are basically white, religious literalists, evolution and climate science deniers; they are corporate-friendly, male-dominated, less educated, and angry about the ascendency of minorities. Obama’s base is more diverse. Blacks and Hispanics overwhelmingly support him. So do union members, liberal Christians, gays, atheists, and those with university educations. Women tend to be more Democratic than men.

In an evolving world, history is on the side of the Obama’s base rather than the Romney’s. Simple population trends kicking in as I write, are running swift and fast against the Republican base. As someone has said, they’re running out of angry white guys. So even the passage of four more years without GOP control of the White House (not to mention the Congress) will buy Obama’s base and their interests more time. That means the political conversation is likely to shift in a more liberal direction even over the next quadrennial.

Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy is on the horizon.

That’s why I’m going through with that party next Saturday. That’s why I’m voting for Obama (while firmly holding my nose). I’m buying time.

Thanks Amy Goodman For Breaking the Sound Barrier

Like 69 million other Americans, I watched the second presidential debate from Hofstra University last night. And I must confess I was pleased to see President Obama “win.” This was the Obama so notably absent from the first debate. He came out swinging, was feisty, incisive and smart. He clearly won, and was the more able of the two debaters. That made me feel better – but only because President Obama is the lesser of two evils and only because the parameters of debate were so narrowly set.

My point is that there were only two candidates on stage.  As a result, there was a remarkable convergence of assumptions and positions between the two. That convergence might have been avoided had other candidates been allowed onstage with the two corporate spokespersons now posturing before us as candidates presenting us with “stark differences.”

Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” has tried to remedy the situation in a series of debates she calls “Breaking the Sound-Barrier” (http://www.democracynow.org/).  The title’s reference is to her show’s inclusion of opinion beyond that endorsed by the corporate interests that shape public debate – that set the “limits of perception” more effectively than blinders on horses.

So this morning on Ms. Goodman’s program, she added three other candidates’ voices to the debate mix: Jill Stein of the Green Party, Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. The three took part just as if Candy Crowley’s questions had been presented not only to Messrs Obama and Romney, but to them as well. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer. And by the way, Ms. Goodman was far more successful at imposing time limits than Jim Lehrer, Martha Radatz or Candy Crowley.

The upshot of breaking the system-imposed “sound barrier” was to remarkably soften the differences between candidates Romney and Obama.

For instance, both candidates sparred with each other over who was more the champion of dirty energy, drilling, and pipe lines. Yes, they mentioned “green technologies.” But with both Romney and Obama it always seemed an afterthought. Mr. Romney evoked “drill, baby, drill” memories with his emphasis on more drilling and on the XL Pipeline. Apparently, Mr. Obama was afraid to even mention that while reserving his decision on the XL Pipeline till after the elections, he’s very quietly allowed construction of the U.S. portion to actually begin.

Had Ms. Stein been admitted to the Hofstra debate, Americans would have been reminded of the impact of fossil fuel consumption not only on prices at the gas pump, but on the environment and global warming. (In fact, the notion of climate change received not a single mention in last night’s contest. And this even though it certainly represents the greatest threat to not only U.S. national security, but to life as we know it.) Ms. Stein’s presence would have made Obama and Romney define their positions on the topic, as she would have had the chance to make her case for a “Green New Deal” which draws connections between the consumption of fossil fuel and environmental deterioration, oil wars, and healthcare.

Rocky Anderson’s presence on stage would have brought front and center the concerns of his Justice Party. Without him the words “poverty” and “poor” crossed no one’s lips, even though poverty rates in the United States are at their highest rate since 1965. Similarly, Mr. Anderson would have raised questions of breaking up the “too big to fail” banks and the prosecution of fraudulent bankers not one of whom has yet been brought to trial.

Mr. Anderson would also have made the Republicans, Democrats and public at large reframe the “jobs debate.” Without him, both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney could avoid facing the fact that the digital revolution of the last twenty-five years has rendered obsolete conventional ways of thinking about work. Robots have displaced people. As a result, it’s imperative to reframe questions of employment. Available jobs must be shared; it’s as simple as that. Work days, weeks, months, and years need shortening. Vacations need extensions. And the wealth the new technology is currently concentrating in the 1% needs redistribution.

Perhaps no question in last night’s debate more highlighted the need for “breaking the sound barrier” than the one about the differences between Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama, and George W. Bush. In his answer, candidate Romney talked about differences in personality and context, championing small businesses, and cracking down on China. Mercifully for him, Mr. Obama did not have to answer the question.

Neither Ms. Stein nor Mr. Anderson would have allowed such question-dodging to pass. The fact is, both Stein and Anderson agree, there is very little important difference between either the Romney or Obama positions or that of former President Bush. In fact under Obama, Bush policies have been exacerbated, and they promise to get even worse under Romney. The list of policy similarities is long: use of torture, promotion of free trade agreements, spying on U.S. citizens, detention of “terrorist” suspects with charge or trial, extra-judicial (drone) executions, championing dirty energy, off-shoring of jobs, misleading agreement that Social Security and Medicare are in crisis, refusal to prosecute Bush era war crimes . . .

Yes, Mr. Obama rose to the occasion last night. And I’m happy that he won. I’ll vote for him in November. But my vote is only a stop-gap measure. During the next four years I’m going to devote my political energies to working for the Justice and Green Parties so that in 2014 they won’t be excluded from presidential debates.

Even if their winning the presidency might remain a remote possibility, their inclusion in the debates will serve us all. Thanks, Amy Goodman!

The First Debate: Was He Ill?

I had high hopes for last night’s first presidential debate and the signals it would send for a second Obama term that looked more assured every day. I was looking for signs that the president had learned from his “Why can’t we all just get along?” bipartisan failure, and come out swinging.

He’d use his gift of eloquence to truly take full advantage of the bully pulpit the debate format provided. He’d confront Mitt Romney over his chameleon conversion to Tea Party extremism. He’d ask him about Bain Capital and the policy it represents of sending U.S. jobs overseas and sheltering money in the Cayman Islands. Mr. Obama would ask for clarification about the governor’s “47%” gaffe and the signal it sent to Middle Americans.

He’d call Republicans on their lies and for being the “Party of “No,'” and for thwarting his valiant efforts at bipartisanship. He’d ask Mr. Romney why they’ve filibustered specific programs that would help Main Street and  war veterans

He’d have a clear narrative of exactly how deregulation, tax cuts, and Republican disregard for deficits have gotten the country into its present mess. He’d tell a story of American healthcare as clearly as Michael Moore’s “Sicko.” Naming the fundamental deceit of the phrase “clean coal,” he’d make a clear and unambiguous case for green energy to protect the environment from corporate predators. He’d force his opponent to explain his party’s denial of the reality and threat of global warming.

President Obama’s victory in the first debate would once and for all set a tone for (what before last night) seemed to be the likelihood of a second Obama presidential term.

But none of that happened.

Instead the president allowed Governor Romney to appear more presidential than he did. Romney looked Obama in the eye throughout the entire debate. Meanwhile, the president constantly looked down at his notes or at the debate moderator Jim Lehrer. When he did face his opponent, it was fleetingly– almost as if he didn’t belong on the same stage with the man.

And the president talked too much — a full four minutes and change more than Governor Romney. But the extra time was counter-productive. He seemed hesitant and lacking in confidence. He was rambling, unfocused, often incoherent and general. He had to apologize to Mr. Lehrer more than once for exceeding his time limit. For his part, Romney seemed confident and crisp. He had the “facts”at his fingertips ticking off points and itemizing them in groups of fives and threes. He gave the impression that he was the man with a plan, while the president was constantly on the defensive.

And there was no forceful challenge to Romney’s discredited “trickle down” narrative. Obama actually allowed Romney without counter-comment about public ownership of the airwaves to call for the end of Public Broadcasting and to twice denigrate “green energy.” It was Romney who faulted Obama for not being entitled to his own facts. And all of that without any clear response from the incumbent.

It all made me wonder if Mr. Obama was well — or if he had seriously prepared for the debate.

For the first time, I’m thinking we may have to get used to the phrase “President Romney.” Help!