Sunday, January 27, 2008

Kucinich Calls It

Last week, Dennis Kucinich dropped out of the primary race for President. His final speech in the campaign was a sad moment, but Kucinich used it to make some pointed observations about the campaign and about the nation. Here is a video clip of the entire speech:

I found this excerpt to be the most important point of Kucinich's speech:

I won't be President, but I can continue to fight for these important issues as a Congressman, representing the community that is first in my heart, Cleveland, Ohio: issues like the economic rights of people, jobs for all, health care for all, retirement security for all, and social justice for all.

I have put proposals before the Congress to create jobs. I have put proposals before the Congress to create health care for all. I have put proposals before the Congress to create universal pre-kindergarten -- all things which my district, and many districts like it across this country, need so desperately.

Instead, we asked for jobs, we get war. We asked for health care, we get war. We asked for funds for education, we get war. We ask for a clean environment, we get war. It is time to end this war. It is time to end war as an instrument of policy and have the government start taking care of things here at home. In Cleveland. And in places everywhere just like Cleveland.

The physical health of our nation is declining. Here in Cleveland you can see people suffering everywhere because they have no health care. Across Ohio there are 1 million people who have no health insurance. Either because they can’t afford it or because they lost their job, or because they have a pre-existing condition. It is time to have a single payer, not for profit health care system. I am the co-author of the bill, HR 676, and this single idea of a single-payer system would be the key economic stimulus that could both save and create millions of jobs while restoring the health of our nation.

We are losing our nation to a war based on lies, to destruction of our civil liberties and to massive debt. I tried to get these themes into the debates. But I was locked out of six debates. In each and every early primary state, in Iowa, in New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and California, the American people were denied an opportunity to know that there is a way our of Iraq, there are plans to restore our economy, there is a practical health care plan which means the end of premiums, co-pays and deductibles. But there was no way to get the message out. Workers here know about lockouts. They stop you from being heard.[Emphasis added.]

But workers also know that the fight for economic rights is not about a single day, or a single year, or a single campaign, or a single candidate. It is a lifelong endeavor.

I found Kucinich's comments on the debates particularly interesting. Of all the Democratic contenders, he represented the most truly progressive message. Although Obama and Edwards have called for change, it was Kucinich who actually substantiated that call and has been the one petitioning most aggressively for accountability in government, an end to the war, universal health care, and for the impeachment of Dick Cheney. But when Kuncinich was interviewed by the press, he was barraged by idiotic questions about a UFO sighting and his wife's tongue piercing. And, as he noted in his speech, he was blocked out of the Democratic debates and when he did participate very few questions were directed at him. The same thing is now happening to John Edwards.

I hope that Kucinich's speech was not a eulogy for our democracy. But it's hard not to think so when faced with the American people's loss of control over their nation. Although voters are turning out to the polls in record numbers, its how their options are being framed that concerns me. Obama and Clinton have never actually been challenged to substantiate their calls for change, just as John McCain has never been called upon to defend his "straight talk" slogan and Mitt Romney has not been asked to justify making his millions through massive layoffs. The voters are heading to the polls on the auspices that they have choice, but that choice has been directed and shaped by lazy journalism and fixed debates.

Based on the popularity of Kucinich and his ideas and the surprise fundraising record set by Ron Paul, there appears to be a strong grass roots movement for change, the kind that could seed the creation of a new third party, one that does not simply siphon votes from the Democratic and Republican parties, but becomes a genuine alternative to these two institutions.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Clinton, Obama, and the Allegiance Delusion

Since today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I thought it would be appropriate to comment upon something that has been bothering me in the Democratic presidential race. There have been quite a few articles like this one from CNN, describing a tension in certain constituencies, namely African Americans but others as well, as to how their allegiances ought to shape their vote. Here is an excerpt:

Recent polls show black women are expected to make up more than a third of all Democratic voters in South Carolina's primary in five days.

For these women, a unique, and most unexpected dilemma, presents itself: Should they vote their race, or should they vote their gender?

No other voting bloc in the country faces this choice.

Democratic analyst Jehmu Greene says, "We've all wanted the day to come where there was a black person in the White House, where there was going to be a woman in the White House. I don't think we imagined it would be having to decide one or the other."

Greene says women, including herself, face pressure to vote their race. In the African-American community, there is a perception that race trumps gender, she says.

Clinton supporters are seen as sellouts, Greene and others say.

What I need to draw attention to is the dilemma itself, which I believe is false. If I, as a white male, were to say that I would vote for a candidate because he was a white male, the idiocy of my reasoning would be easily apparent. (Interestingly, John Edwards actually said in the Youtube debate, "If there are people out there who will not vote for Barack because he is black, and who will not vote for Hillary because she is a woman, I don't want their vote either.") This notion that women or African Americans ought to vote for one candidate or another based upon how his or her gender or race aligns with that of the candidate is insulting and a step backwards. Based on the content of the CNN article, there are hints that this tension preexisted in the minds of the electorate. Unfortunately, the mainstream media is helping to perpetuate this false dilemma through their coverage, which inevitably shapes the language and talking points of the discourse, and the recent flap between Obama and Clinton exacerbated this conflict. There are signs of hope, such as Bill Cosby, who has reappeared in public life in the past few years as a major critical voice in the African American community, addressing this very issue on Larry King Live and endorsing Dennis Kucinich. However, it is still disconcerting that a major issue of the primary debate has come down to how closely a candidate physically resembles the voters. Actual discussion about the economy, the war in Iraq, education, national security, immigration, gay rights, and other pertinent issues have all been pushed aside in favor of this rather immature discussion.

In his "I Have a Dream" speech, Martin Luther King said, "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." Let's hope that before the primary is over, voters will chose a candidate based on their character, integrity, and vision rather than superficial allegiances.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bush 2.0

I've been trying to imagine how the Republicans running for President of the United States might differ from Geroge W. Bush. After nearly five years of war, a cornucopia of scandals, and a tanking economy, certainly no reasonable person could consider the Bush Administration a success. A new leader, even from Bush's party, must recognize the need for a new direction, right?

Among the major candidates, Mike Huckabee, the minister running for President and Republican winner of the Iowa caucus, has been most vocal Republican calling for change. Huckabee has been critical of what he calls Bush's "bunker mentality." It's an encouraging sign, but it may be the only one.

Huckabee is among the nominees who does not believe in evolution. In one of the many debates, Huckabee defended his stance. He demurred a little bit, trying to insert god into evolution and have it both ways.

While in these clips Huckabee acknowledges that citizens should not be forced into any belief system and appears to differentiate between personal beliefs and public policy, Huckabee does ally himself with the contemporary attack on reason that marks the administration of George W. Bush. This attitude, which places faith before facts, is part of a growing trend that stabs at the foundations of the enlightenment and Western civilization. When confronted with incompatible matters of science and religion--such as evolution or homosexuality--Bush and Huckabee retreat to an "I don't know" answer that ignores the question, treating the different sides as though they have equal weight and validity. This kind of attitude leads to blunders in non-religious endevors, such as Bush's war in Iraq or his environmental policy, both of which place ideology over reason.

During the lead up to the Iowa caucus, Huckabee ran ads referring to himself as a "Christian leader" and he butted heads with Mitt Romney in a way that, intentionally or not, set up the debate between them as the Christian leader versus the Mormon leader.

Earlier this week, the night before the Michigan primary, Huckabee took his religious zealotry a step further, and announced his intention to amend the Constitution to create a theocratic state. If a Muslim said the same things as Huckabee did here, he or she would never be allowed to get on an airplane ever again.

The statement is surprising coming out of the mouth of Huckabee, who is usually a very careful speaker. And given Huckabee's interest in securing the evangelical vote, his comments may have more do with pandering to the audience than anything else. But within the context of Huckabee's campaign, this call for theocracy appears as part of a natural progression, an evolution if you will, from his statements in the debates and his self proclaimed label as a Christian leader.

This neocon Christian agenda has been growing in recent years, with increased government support to faith-based initiatives, mandated abstinence-only sex education, and public statements linking the Republican party ever more closely to proselytizing efforts. Pasting Huckabee's rhetoric against this background, a Huckabee presidency appears like it would be Bush 2.0. That is, religious priorities take precedence over all else but now in a more direct and aggressive way.

Huckabee is not alone in his quest to become a new and improved version of Bush. Romney has also made pandering statements to the evangelicals, like his strange speech on the place of religion in public life. After Huckabee made his "bunker" comments, Romney came to Bush's defense. Apparently he thinks Bush is right on and he has said that he would expand the Guantanamo Bay prison, when even military figures have called for its closure. John McCain has supported the war in Iraq, especially last year's troop surge, and Rudy Giuliani shares Bush's antipathy for civil liberties and his approval of torture.

So where does this leave the Republican field? Of course there are a few other candidates like Fred Thompson and Ron Paul, but their chances of winning the nomination are next to nothing, which is unfortunate, especially in Paul's case. Despite the apparent unpopularity of George W. Bush, it appears that the Republican nominees have little or no intention of altering the course set by George W. Bush. On the contrary, they want to expand upon it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Maverick at the Movies: Best and Worst of 2007

This past Sunday, Maverick at the Movies featured my countdown of the best and worst films of 2007 as well as some other lists. Here is a rundown:

Top 10 Films of 2007:
  1. Into the Wild
  2. There Will Be Blood
  3. Zodiac
  4. The Hoax
  5. Black Snake Moan
  6. In the Valley of Elah
  7. The Kite Runner
  8. Waitress
  9. 28 Weeks Later
  10. The War

Bottom 10 Films of 2007:

  1. Perfect Stranger
  2. D-War: Dragon War
  3. Next
  4. The Hitcher
  5. The Hills Have Eyes II
  6. Halloween
  7. The Reaping
  8. The Invasion
  9. Ghost Rider
  10. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Look at this page for full explainations on each film and some additional lists and observations about the year.

Saturday, January 05, 2008